After many incidents, and finally the tragedy of September 11, the Congress in 2001 created the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). Since then, there have been no hijackings of planes in American airspace.
But hijacking is hardly a thing of the past. Since 9/11, we have witnessed almost regular hijackings of Congress and the country in which small bands of zealots pursue an extreme minority agenda that poses grave threat to the American people. They may not be armed, in the traditional sense, but they certainly are dangerous.
It’s time, finally, for a Political Safety Net (PSN).The Constitution and a lot of political history have been reasonably successful in preventing majorities from taking undue advantage of minorities. But we have a lot less history with – and far fewer protections from -political minorities that wage legislative jihad by hijacking the process and holding it – and the country – hostage to their demands.
The current chaos over the federal budget (to be followed, all too soon, by another battle over the debt ceiling) takes obstructionism to new levels. The House of Representatives’ repeated attempts to undo a law that was passed by both houses of Congress three years ago, upheld by the Supreme Court and fought over again in the 2012 Presidential election – and their willingness to bring down the house, so to speak, to get their way – underscores not only a political divide, but a complete abdication of leadership.
Historically, minorities had to cool their heels until a new election enabled them, or not, to impose their will on a former majority by a popular vote. Even the most recalcitrant of minorities knew well the first lesson of politics – how to count to 50 percent plus one – and strove, through the normal electoral and legislative process, to build a majority through compromise, negotiation, cajoling and back-room deal-making. Sure, Newt Gingrich shut down the government (in the 90’s), but he also raised taxes, cut deals (most famously on welfare), and accepted his foremost responsibility to the American people to govern. The malcontents of the current dispute show no such devotion to democracy.
What could a PSN do about this problem? One has to start by assuming that a Constitutional amendment is a near-impossibility, so such an entity is likely to be limited to moral suasion based on its perceived impartiality and expertise. A PSN could be created by mobilizing together a group of people who are ‘beyond fear or favor’ –distinguished public servants whose careers have ended.
It could include, for example, all living former Presidents and Vice Presidents, all living retired members of the Supreme Court and assorted others, such as former heads of the Federal Reserve, retired chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former Cabinet heads and perhaps a few Senators and Representatives- all retired for good. There are, no doubt, others, but the precise size and makeup isn’t important here. And they surely are capable of making their own process.
Such a distinguished group of senior citizens, who would be asked to consider the most divisive issues of the day and, might very well provide a healthy influence on the political system, particularly if the group weighed in only when a healthy majority of them (2/3rds?) concurred in a course of action. A random set of individuals speaking might be helpful, but a collective view would have far more impact and effect on public opinion.
Why could it work? Because it would help drive public opinion in a non-partisan and fact-based manner, free from the hyperbole of the political arena and unshackled by an obvious need to win elections. The PSN would really need no power beyond the collective reputations of its members and their willingness to “educate and influence” the American public on matters of great import.
There is no way to know how such a group might view today’s amazing performance in Washington.
However, if a group of elders as proposed above, free of any personal political fears or ambitions, were to hold a clear and substantial view on a question, perhaps more sense might creep into more thinking across the whole country to everyone’s betterment.