One of the things that concerned James Madison and other proponents of our Constitution were the control of what they called factions. And Madison defined a 'faction' as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are 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." Special interests would be a more contemporary but perhaps narrower term.
Madison understood that we would always have factions and that the only relief would be the controlling of its effects. Madison argued that a Republic would be more successful in controlling factions than a pure Democracy because a Republic would “…refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations”.
Madison was correct in saying we would always have factions and we can leave it to historians to argue how well our country has responded to or controlled factions in the past. But what did work in the past to control the passions of factions isn’t working now and for certain our government isn’t working the way Madison and the Founding Fathers foresaw.
The recent 112th Congress is a perfect example of government not working. A historically low number of bills past; the lowest public approval ratting ever; the government forced into unnecessary fiscal and budgetary crises which got the Government’s credit rating lowered. Its handling of the fiscal cliff made a mockery of the legislative process, split the Republican caucus in two and, unprecedented in the history of the country, saw Speaker of the House losing control of his own caucus.
The scary part is that not only do members of the Republican Party think that a barely functioning government is a good thing, many are now encouraging either the total shutdown of the government or the willful refusal to raise the debt ceiling in order to achieve their ideological goals.
So where did Madison go wrong? Why has the control of factions he saw inherent in a Republic failed to prevent what happened in the 112th Congress?
Madison thought that elected representatives, particularly in a large Republic, would mediate any factions they represented. He never foresaw that the elected representatives themselves would become the factions. And that is what has happened to the Republican Party. The elected members of the Republican Party are not what Madison envisioned. They emphatically are not those, “…whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations”. They are just the opposite. With the way Representatives are currently elected most members of the 112th Congress are returning as the 113th Congress. This does not bode well for the country for the next two years.
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