Yankee Doodle: Political Parties
By John Feehery
If Yankee Doodle, his pony and his feathered cap were to arrive in Washington, D.C., today, he would see a government just as the Founders envisioned it.
Three branches of government, equally matched, battle for supremacy, as two major political parties struggle to govern in a period of instability.
This is how James Madison drew it up more than 223 years ago and how Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin hoped it would evolve as they penned the Declaration of Independence, whose 236th birth we celebrate tomorrow.
Certainly, the Founding Fathers could never have imagined a globally supreme United States, especially one that elected president a man whose father was born in Africa. But they would have appreciated how their system has worked to maintain a system of checks and balances to keep America free, not only from foreign enemies, but also, more pointedly, from domestic tyranny.
The Founders would have appreciated how John Roberts handled the ObamaCare decision. It is not the job of the Supreme Court to write the laws or to repeal them. Nor is it the job of the Congress, through the use of the Commerce Clause, to tell the American people to buy private health insurance. But the Constitution did give the federal government the power to tax, and with that loophole, Justice Roberts found a way to assert the prerogatives of the court without overstepping its purview.
The Founders would also have appreciated the battles between Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House committee in charge of overseeing the executive branch, and Eric Holder, the attorney general. Issa has a constitutional right to get information from the executive branch. The attorney general has an implied right to limit that information flow under “executive privilege,” or so the theory goes.
The Founding Fathers wanted to keep the power of the executive in check, but also understood that the legislative branch could get out of control on occasion. And so they gave the power to resolve these disputes to an independent judiciary.
Ultimately, Congress has the power of the purse should this dispute not get resolved to its satisfaction — once again, just as the Founders had envisioned it: The first branch of government ultimately reigns supreme.
There is a longstanding political tradition that America be governed in a binary fashion. It started with the Federalists and the anti-Federalists, as the allies of Jefferson competed with the Hamiltonian forces to win the favor of George Washington.
The two-party system has survived just as it has transformed. America doesn’t do multi-parties. When a third-party faction rises, one of the two parties integrates the desires of that third-party challenge, or it risks dying.
The Tea Party rose as a challenge to the Republican Party, and predictably, the GOP moved right to accommodate the views of the evangelical libertarians who make up the heart and soul of the new faction. By banning earmarks, taking a hard line on spending and rejecting much of the domestic agenda of the previous Republican administration, the new Republican Party accommodates the views of both the new faction and the old, thereby making revolution unnecessary.
And that is how progress is made and has been made in the America founded more than two centuries ago. Two political parties spread out into three branches of government. Fierce partisanship eventually gives way to self-interested compromise. Consensus eventually achieved after all other options are exhausted. Gridlock broken only by a brief spasm of legislative hyperactivity, only to retreat back to consolidation and gridlock again.
The Founding Fathers didn’t trust efficient government, so they designed the system we have. It has worked just as they thought it would.