The Reckoning

Our Abhorrent Vacuum

capitol building

The west side of the US Capitol.

Photograph by Karen Bleier/AFP/GettyImages

Yes, by all means, be angry. Now, comrades, is the time we rage about judicial activism. While we’re at it, let’s condemn the temerity of unelected central bankers who meddle in the economic affairs of our democracy and the overreaching president (who really isn’t even American, you know) opening our borders to aliens.


There, in a nutshell, is the national mood.

Why, so many liberals seem to be asking, has the Supreme Court gone into supernova mode? Is this the result of the right’s “long coup” against our democracy, as James Fallows contends to warm applause?


Never mind that the left never complained about judicial activism when the court’s decisions went in their favor. That was different.

The right has constitutional gripes of its own. What about the Federal Reserve and rumors that it may unleash a third wave of liquidity into the economy–QE3–just in time for Obama’s re-election? Gerald Celente, a well-known right-wing economic forecaster, calls the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, “nothing but a flunkie for Obama” and says it’s outrageous that the Fed would consider intervening in the economy in an election year.


Imagine that? The Fed thinks it should do something more than watch as the economy goes off the cliff again.

For that matter, who does President Obama think he is invoking executive privilege in a congressional probe of a botched gunrunning operation? This, intones the scrupulously objective constitutional scholar Darrell Issa, is an abuse of presidential power.


Blah Blah Blah Blah.

It is hard to read these rants, frankly, and I’ll admit I’m ranting a bit myself right now. But the fact is, in all of these cases and many others, the overactivity of the court, the Fed and the White House has less to do with a Masonic desire to reorder the constitutional status quo than the fact that one of the three vital organs of our nation is intellectually and morally dead.

Which branch? Let me give you a hint: It has 100 blow-dried millionaires living off our taxes in six-year increments and another 435 cosmetically enhanced egotists whose overriding priority is ensuring they will win the right to another two years at the trough.*


The black hole that is Congress has shut down, like a liver ravaged by years of abuse, and the rest of the body is doing all it can to sustain life.


Congress likes to hold hearings about threats to national security–al-Qaida, Iranian nukes, stumpy North Korean dictators, etc., etc. This is truly theater of the absurd at this stage.

No threat foreign or domestic can bring this nation to its knees as quickly as this dysfunctional legislative farce. Sometimes, military strategists are fond of saying, the best course of action is to do nothing.

This ain’t one of those times.

When a person is blinded or loses his or her hearing, medical science tells us that this invariably leads to a sharpening of the other senses.


Something very similar is going on in Washington, and you may not like what you hear, see, or smell from these hyperactive institutions, but the problem is clear: We must reform Congress, because its dysfunction is now a true national emergency. It forces activism and the bending of constitutional norms just to prevent disaster. It empowers those inside government who view the legislative branch’s abdication of its responsibility as an invitation to fill the vacuum.

If you don’t like the court meddling in health care or abortion, DEMAND that your representatives in Congress deal with the questions directly. If you don’t like the Fed unleashing QE3, demand that Congress does something about the anemia affecting our economy.


Vote. Them. Out.

Polls show most Americans abhor Congress. We should be sure to abhor the vacuum its irresponsible leadership has created, too.

How do we fix this? I’ve seen a few good templates–and I’ve suggested a few myself, in particular doing away with midterm elections and synchronizing our voting to encourage maximum turnout. Former Texas Rep. Mickey Cantor has a good six-point plan for bringing Congress into the 20th century (which would be progress even if the 21st remains too far a reach).

But the first step is to recognize that Congress and its 19th-century dictates have become the primary source of our national emergency. Where is the candidate willing to press this agenda?

*Correction, June 27, 2012: This blog post originally misstated the number of voting members in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is 435, not 465.