The PJ Tatler

Letters from an Ohio Farmer

Here is a new site and it looks pretty good. It’s about the U.S. Constitution. I just asked for e-mail updates. Power Line, one of my favorite sites – it also sends e-mails if requested with the most recent articles – touted it today.

We very much need to emphasize our constitutional principles and, based on a first reading, the Ohio Farmer Letters appear to do a very good job of it. Here are some quotes from a letter posted on April 12, entitled A Republican Form of Government.

As is true of most questions before America’s officials and citizens, the Federalist Papers are invaluable to comprehending this matter of republicanism.  In Federalist 10, James Madison discusses the problem of faction, which he defines as “a number of citizens . . . united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”  The “latent causes of faction” are “sown in the nature of man,” Madison warned, with the result that the “instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.”

Madison argued that the great danger was a faction comprising a majority of the electorate – whether united by a sectional, commercial, or religious interest – because it could operate democratically, winning a series of free and fair elections, even while disdaining the concerns and curtailing the rights of all citizens not belonging to that faction.  He was more sanguine about a faction comprising a minority of the citizenry, because, he thought, the majority would be able to “defeat its sinister views by regular vote,” rendering the faction “unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.”

Here Madison may have been too optimistic. The lessons of recent American politics suggest that minority factions can be more dangerous than he imagined.  The modern phenomenon he failed to anticipate was a government entrusted with so many responsibilities, and so much power and money, that it becomes a faction unto itself, with its own passions and interests adverse to the rights of other citizens.  Those in the control room have both the motive and means to steer the ship of state in directions advantageous to themselves, rather than ones preferred by the passengers who employ them.

The number and complexity of the issues being managed by government, at all levels, reach a point where the regular vote of the majority no longer prevails against the government faction.  California, for example, boasts some 7,000 governmental entities – cities, counties, and “special purpose districts.” Even the most responsible voters cannot possibly keep up with the daily changing minutiae being managed by these agencies.  Americans who already have lives and jobs are not in a position to turn citizenship into a full time career. Among the respects in which all men are created equal is that everyone’s week contains exactly 168 hours, regardless of how many public hearings your air quality management district schedules, or how many reports it makes available on its website.

Government employees, protected by strong unions and formidable civil service rules, have become an especially powerful and, in many cases, especially dangerous faction.  In California, the power of those unions over one of the state’s political parties is practically irresistible.  And because they devote money and resources to low-turnout elections for school boards and transit districts, public employee unions have often been able to effect a travesty of collective bargaining – vigorous representation of their interests on both sides of the negotiating table.  The recent debate about public sector unions in Wisconsin, led one chagrined citizen to reflect, “It’s not democracy when citizens lose control over the pay and benefits of the people who work for them.” Madison would agree.

It goes on from there and is well worth reading.