I’ve had quite a few people asking me about my thoughts on the drama revolving around the House speakership. So, I figure a short post on not only this past few week’s drama but also on the way Congress is supposed to function is in order.
The founders of this nation held a very low opinion of human nature and thus were incredibly reticent to give much power to government, particularly to give much power to one single part of government.
“Ambition must be made to counteract ambition… It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If Men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and the next place, oblige it to control itself.” James Madison
It’s because of this incredibly dismal perspective of human nature, the framers decided to break power apart and put it into as many different hands as they could, while still allowing the government they created to function. This is why we have three branches of government, all Constitutionally equipped to push back against each other, and why we have power distributed to the states and local governments, all equipped to push back against each other and against the federal government.
Congressional power was a specific concern because Congress had been given the most Constitutional power. Hence, Madison said:
“In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates…The remedy for this inconveniency is is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit…the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified”.
In other words, Congress was given so much power–it was the branch equipped with making law, the very purpose of all government–that its ability to make laws quickly needed to be hampered and slowed. Thus, Congress is broken into two chambers. Each chamber is made up of people from different states and/or districts. Each individual in Congress is driven by personal ambition and by the needs specific and unique to their own states or districts. Thus, a monolith of thought in Congress is nigh impossible to reach.
In other words, Congress was built to be slow, cumbersome, divisive and full of disagreements. It was never built to be a smooth running, efficient, law creating machine. The most efficient governments are tyrannies or monarchies where all the power is consolidated into a few hands. So, our founders were not looking to make a smooth running government, pumping out thousands of laws a year. They wanted to make a government that was efficient enough to be capable, while still crippled by an innumerable number of internal and external controls that prevent it from abusing its power.
Rules, Leadership Positions and Congressional Function According to the Constitution
The Constitution aptly left the method of making law entirely to the body of Congress. In other words, everything about how we know and understand Congress to function–their voting methods, their drafting methods, committees, party structure, leadership structure, leadership positions and the like–is a creation of Congress. Congress can and has changed these methods–usually using something called a resolution.
“Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings…” Article 1, Section V
The position of Speaker is the only leadership position in the House mentioned in the Constitution. The Constitution gives no direction to the House about how to elect this position, nor what powers this position would possess.
The extent of the Speaker’s position in the Constitution is as follows: “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers;…” Article 1, Section 2
This means that the method of choosing the Speaker of the House is entirely up to the House itself and based upon the rules that the House has created for itself.
Further, filling the position of the Speaker should become more divisive and contentious the more power the House chooses to bequeath upon the position. Right now the position is quite powerful and can directly influence the lawmaking process and the progress, or lack thereof, of various laws.
This means that every time a new House is elected–which happens every two years–there should be a vast amount of disagreement and pushback on the new potential Speaker. The framers created the positions in the House to be filled with men and women who had very different perspectives and represented unique groups of citizens; hence, there would be no such thing as a party “block” that votes in mass for laws or for leadership positions.
Every individual should be concerned about their constituents–not the “country at large”–because there is no one size fits all for the country at large. Hence, the need for checks and balances and diversity of perspectives.
This means that the election of a new Speaker should never be a given. It should always be fraught with disagreements and pushback because that’s the only truly natural outcome, given the way our government was structured.
It’s altogether unnatural for the House to operate as a monolith or as two monoliths with no intellectual or ideological or regional diversity.
All this to say, it’s a tragedy that what was created to be natural—disagreement and struggle around the Speakership or anything in Congress–Americans perceive as unnatural. This only goes to show just how far we the citizenry have drifted from understanding the very makeup of our own government.
The Liberty Belle