Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

November 12, 2013

LION AND THE LAMB: Dysfunction in high places

By Ted Braun
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — If one wants to find a good example of dysfunctional government, one has to look no further than our federal government in Washington, DC.

Congress is a prime example. The Republicans are bitterly divided between the Tea Party nullificationists and GOP traditionalists still willing to compromise a bit with the Democrats. Despite their differences, both segments have joined together in trying to defund and deep-six the Affordable Care Act without submitting a worthy healthcare substitute. And Grover Norquist wants to go even further: to shrink the federal government in size so that it can fit into a bathtub and be drowned. Despite his effort, however, we can expect that the changing demographic complexion of our nation will continue to recognize the need for federal, rather than statewide or regional, solutions to our problems.

The current presidency is another example of dysfunction and impairment. Obama had come into office with big plans for dealing with health care, immigration, and other major problems, but so far has had to settle for overseeing our American empire's drone kill list and global surveillance program.

Most Americans would place the Supreme Court third on their list of dysfunctional segments in our federal government. A strong case for moving it into first place, however, has been made by Burt Neuborne, professor of civil liberties at the New York University School. Following are his reasons for this:

"Fifty years of Supreme Court tinkering with our political system has resulted in a democracy so dysfunctional that no rational person would choose it.

"The people, through their elected representatives, gave us an effective Voting Rights Act to protect minority voters. The Supreme Court told us that we don't need it anymore. The people gave us a campaign finance law limiting the expansive political power of the rich. The Supreme Court told us that unlimited campaign spending by the one percent doesn't corrupt the democratic process.

"The people gave us a practical way to allow underfunded candidates to compete with rich ones. The Supreme Court told us that it was unfair to the rich. The people walled off the vast trove of corporate wealth from our elections. The Supreme Court told us that unlimited corporate electioneering was good for us.

"The people drew legislative lines to help racial minorities recover from centuries of political exclusion. The Supreme Court told us that it was a dangerous form of racism.

"But when today's politicians entrench themselves in power by putting hurdles in the way of poor people voting, gerrymandering district lines to assure the re-election of incumbents, and stacking the electoral deck in favor of the majority party, the Supreme Court just stands by.

"In the dysfunctional democracy the justices have made, the Supreme Court can even pick a president.

"The extreme wings of each major party control the nominating process. Poor people have to jump through hoops to vote. The party in power controls the outcome in too many legislative elections. And the superrich have turned too many of our elected representatives into wholly owned subsidiaries, and most of our elections into auctions. Madison would weep."

Anyone ready to join Madison in shedding tears?