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Thursday, February 11, 2016

  • With a presidential election year fast approaching, we’re in for a lot of public talk about the state of American democracy. Much of that discussion will be insightful and thought-provoking, but there’s a good chance you’ll also find a lot of it vague and hard to pin down.

    There’s a reason for this. Even our political leaders, the people who are most familiar with the system’s workings, have a hard time describing it.

    In fact, they even have a hard time labeling it. Ours is not actually a pure democracy: it’s more accurate to say that we live in a “representative democracy” in which the people delegate authority to their elected representatives.

    No single feature defines this system. The people are sovereign and consent to be governed through regular participation in the elections that decide who will represent us. Yet elections don’t define our republic, either; there are plenty of countries around the world whose elections are used to distort democracy.

  • A couple of months ago, the Congressional Budget Office issued a sobering report on the U.S. economy’s long-term prospects. Not to put too fine a point on it, we’re headed for the fiscal rocks.

    Federal spending accounts for about 20 percent of the nation’s GDP, the budget analysts note; if current trends continue, that will rise to fully 25 percent by 2040. Revenues will not keep up — they’ll amount to only 19 percent of GDP.

  • The campaigning for next year’s elections is starting to draw more attention, and with it comes a focus on voters and their mood. Which is all well and good, but it leaves out of the equation one large bloc of citizens: people who are eligible to vote, but don’t.

    Over the years, a fair number of people I’ve encountered have confessed that they do not vote — and I often surprise them by pressing them on why they don’t. They give a multitude of reasons.

    The most common is that they’re too busy, or that voting takes too much time. Plenty also say they’re turned off by politics, politicians and anything having to do with government. “What difference does it make?” they’ll ask. Or they’ll argue that money has so corrupted the political system that they want no part of it.

  • The most important function Congress serves is to debate and pass the federal budget. I know – It also levies taxes, imposes or relaxes regulations, and once in a while nudges our social, economic or political order in a meaningful way. But the budget tells the government what to do and makes it possible to do it. Everything else follows from that.

    Even at the best of times, passing a budget is a test of Congress’s abilities. And these aren’t the best of times. Its two houses are controlled by Republicans who don’t see eye to eye. The White House is in the hands of a Democratic president who really doesn’t agree with them.

  • Before the ins and outs of the 2016 presidential contest become a preoccupation for many of us, it seems a good time to step back and look at the office of the presidency for which so many candidates are vying. The presidency inherited by whoever wins next November will be substantially changed from the position his or her predecessors occupied a few decades ago.

    The President is now the chief — and sometimes the sole — actor in American government. He far outweighs the other so-called “co-equal” branches. The media covers the White House extensively, and the other branches much less so. People don’t expect Congress or the Supreme Court to solve the country’s problems. Instead, they look to the President for initiatives, for remedies, and increasingly — and sadly — to serve as a de facto pastor to the nation when we confront a tragedy.

The Paper of Montgomery County,
a division of Sagamore News Media

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