As the US ends its shutdown, I can’t help but think of John Maynard Keynes, a wise yet prudent economist, who once said, “Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking.” In saying this, Keynes attempted to meld the future by letting people know … it’s okay to be innovative. In fact, he implied that it’s more than okay to be innovative — it should be expected. But there lies the remainder of this quote, that to date, I had failed to call upon:
“But when the seats of power and authority have been attained, there should be no more poetic license.”
I find myself here, an American in Europe, as the American Government has been shut down for many days … more days than reasonably necessary, all simply because of a childish and disturbing attempt to make a point. Certainly, Tea Party-ers and stark Republicans had the wherewithal to remember that the Health Care Reform was law. In refusing to pass a budget, did they not realize that to do so would be to violate the law? Did they not realize that to fail to follow the law, to fund that which is not repealed, that they act, in essence, unconstitutionally? Do they not realize, while the Congressional gym stays open but the elderly, poverty-stricken and disabled fear going hungry, that there is now very little chance of a 2014 success for them? Had they simply read, understood, cared about the prophecies, if you’d allow me that word, of Keynes, all of this may have been avoided. A better quote, perhaps, than my initial one, is this:
“They have not convinced their opponents; they have downed them. It is the modern method–but very disastrous, I am still old-fashioned enough to believe–to depend on propaganda and to seize the organs of opinion; it is thought to be clever and useful to fossilize thought and to use all the forces of authority to paralyze the play of mind on mind. For those who have found it necessary to employ all methods whatever to attain power, it is a serious temptation to continue to use for the task of construction the same dangerous tools which wrought the preliminary housebreaking.”
The modern method? He wrote this in 1933. Yet here we are, 2013, a full eighty years later, yet modern then is still modern now. I should probably disclose to you my political party — I have none. I check-marked “Other” on my voter registration card and aspire to not simply follow the herd to the water, and thus, to the deathly sharp teeth of the gator, but to make informed, educated, well-rounded decisions about life, and yes, unfortunately, politics.
This is all that this is — politics. In my first week here, I was reminded about an holistic EU process: the Motion of Censure. According to the European Parliament,
“When a new Commission is appointed, its 28 members – one from each EU country – cannot take up office until Parliament has approved them. If the Members of the European Parliament disapprove of a nominee, they can reject the entire slate. Parliament can also call on the Commission to resign during its period in office. This is called a ‘motion of censure’.” (Emphasis mine)
The EU goes further to explain this process, on page 3 of its most recent Fact Sheets on the European Union:
“B. Motion of censure
There has been provision for a motion of censure against the Commission (under what is now Article 234 TFEU) ever since the Treaty of Rome. Such a motion requires a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of Parliament’s component members. If it is passed, the Commission must resign as a body. There have been only eight motions of censure since the beginning: none has been adopted, but the number of votes in favour of censure has steadily increased. However, the most recent motion (put to the vote on 8 June 2005) obtained only 35 votes to 589, with 35 abstentions.” (Emphasis mine)
The key here is that this is for the European Parliament to act against the European Commission, not the other way around. The “true” legislators of the EU (and I use the term “true” quite loosely due to the mandatory cooperative nature of the EU), can remove an entire body of representatives. In the US, Congress makes the laws. Congress proposes the laws. Congress acts on its own (again, I use the word “own” quite loosely; topics like PACs and corporate contributions can be tackled another day). Americans hope Congress does its job at all, even if incorrectly.
In the US, we have an impeachment process, and yes, even a censure process, but both focus on one individual, one office, one single solitary person and act. To my knowledge, there is no real process to remove an entire Congress, or an entire Cabinet, or even an entire Judiciary. Perhaps this is what Americans believe makes them better than the rest of the world, but it seems to me, failure to have an adequate mechanism to require lawful action. This failure feels barbaric. Yes, I am aware that this may go both ways. Yes, I am aware that if this process existed for one faction, it exists for all. Yes, perhaps there is a better way than any of these processes, and perhaps that is the point I wish to make. Why have we not gone further? Why is there not a system that truly works, for the purpose in which it was created – the people. As to the US, I remember now … because the people who have the power to make the system, also rule the system. Tell me then, where are the checks and balances that allegedly exist?
Unification, integration, trade, whatever the reason, yet we stand across the pond, looking back at America wondering what it is that would encourage such barbaric behaviour, yet there is nothing we can do. We watch the Eurozone ebb and flow and work diligently towards continued cooperation and integration. The US could take a lesson, and one American already has … President Obama.
Though a topic for another day, the US was surprised by Mr. Obama’s use of the word “transparency” in 2007 and 2008, yet the concept and the requirements already existed here in Europe. Americans were shocked by the fact that Mr. Obama wished for us to actually care about human rights, the environment, trade, and the like, in our own country or another … but these concepts and these processes already exist in international conventions, treaties, agreements, declarations … most of which the US has failed to sign onto or even ratify, and if ratified, make reservations upon. What Mr. Obama would have us do is bring the US to the level of international respect, and frankly, I cannot begin to think that this is too much to ask.
European Union (2013). “European Parliament: Democratic supervision.” Retrieved from http://europa.eu/about-eu/institutions-bodies/european-parliament on 17 October 2013.
European Union (2013). “SCRUTINY OVER THE EXECUTIVE: Motion of censure.” Fact Sheets on the European Union – 2013. Retrieved from www.europarl.europa.eu/ftu/pdf/en/FTU_1.3.2.pdf on 17 October 2013.
Keynes, John Maynard (1933). “National Self-Sufficiency,” The Yale Review, Vol. 22, no. 4 (June 1933), pp. 755-769.
Klein, Ezra (16 October 2013). “If Ted Cruz didn’t exist, Democrats would have to invent him.” Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/16/if-ted-cruz-didnt-exist-democrats-would-have-to-invent-him/ on 16 October 2013.
Soltis, Andy (2013). “Congressional gyms stay open despite shutdown.” New York Post. Retrieved from http://nypost.com/2013/10/09/congressional-gyms-stay-open-despite-shutdown/ on 17 October 2013.
Office of the Press Secretary, White House (USA) (2013). “Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 2775.” Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/10/17/statement-press-secretary-hr-2775 on 17 October 2013.