Wednesday, January 31, 2007
American Preference for "Band-Aid" Fixes
Theodore Roosevelt was a strong monarch. He once sent the American Navy around the world to display our power. Someone pointed out to him that the money appropriated by Congress for the Navy would take it only half way around. Mr. Roosevelt responded that he would send the Navy anyway. If Congress wanted to leave it on the other side of the world, it could do so.
The Tudor monarchy worked well for England. The Tudors - Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in particular - were skillful politicians and knew that they had to have public support for any risky venture they might want to undertake. Their dynasty was followed by the Stuarts, a bunch of rather stiff-necked Scotchmen. James I was the first Stuart king. He believed in and advocated the "divine right of kings" to govern as they saw fit. No pandering to public opinion for him or his successors. The existence of stubborn, unpopular kings showed a great flaw in the English system of government. The only way to get rid of a stubborn, incompetent, unpopular monarch was to execute him or to conduct a successful armed uprising against him.
Our founding fathers knew that they had to deal with the King Charles problem. Their solution was to have the king (i.e., President) elected for a four-year term of office. Even if he turned out to be stubborn, evil, and incompetent, the country would have to put up with him for only four years. In addition, the Congress could impeach and try him; if convicted, he would be expelled from office. Impeachment hasn't worked out very well. Three Presidents have been impeached. Two were tried and exonerated. One resigned.
Impeachment has turned out to be a "band-aid" fix that hasn't had much success. The Northerners couldn't get rid of Andrew Johnson; the Republicans couldn't get rid of Bill Clinton. In my view, Andrew Johnson was a misfit who should never have become President. Bill Clinton was a capabale President who should never have been impeached.
Our method of electing a President is both archaic and quaint. We do not elect Presidents by direct popular vote, like we do every other elected official in the nation, from Senators down to city aldermen. Instead, we elect "electors" who propose names of able men who they believe will be good Presidents. If the electors don't agree on a single person by majority vote, the House of Representatives, voting by States, chooses the President. This method hasn't worked as well as intended.
Some Americans are backing a "band-aid" approach. The scheme is to get a few of the most populous States (such as California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois) to pass a law directing their electors to vote for whoever wins a majority of the popular vote in a Presidential Election. The combined electoral votes of these States would have to be a majority of the total. They argue that it is easier to get legislatures in half a dozen States to pass such a law than to amend the constitution to get rid of the electoral college. One problem is - and it may not be a serious problem - that it is just as easy for a State legislature to rescind the law as it is to enact it.
Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed such a law here in California.
Another popular "band-aid" fix is the plan adopted in Massachusetts and supported by Governor Schwarzenegger to provide health insurance to all by simply making it a legal requirement and providing necessary subsidies for poor people. This plan does nothing to get rid of one of the big obstacles to good medical care for all: the health insurance industry. The insurance industry is backing this "band-aid" to stave off a universal single-payer plan.
Perhaps you, dear reader, can cite other popular band-aid approaches that Americans like.