Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Which branch of the U.S. government is most powerful?

As any third grader can tell you (I hope) there are 3 separate but supposedly equal branches of government in the American political system: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the U.S. and also a doctor of political science, wrote his dissertation in 1885 on the American political system. It is titled Congressional Government, and in it Wilson wrote that "There is always a center of power...within any system of government." In Wilson's opinion that center of power was Congress and its many committee leaders.

I bring this up because I wonder what Wilson would say about the American political system today. I doubt that he would say the center of power lies with Congress. It seems to me that today the executive branch holds most of the power. Obama is constantly issuing executive orders (see a list here), though at only 168 so far he is still far short of reaching FDR's total of 3,522 or even Woodrow Wilson's total of 1,803. Of course FDR and Wilson were two of the most, if not the most, intrusive, meddling presidents of all time.

Reading Wilson's dissertation you get the sense that Congress' power to stymie the president annoyed him. His use of executive power backs this up. I think that many of the presidents since Wilson, including Obama, feel the same way. But in my opinion what is most unfortunate is that many of the modern Congress's let the president get away with this modern power grab. Congress often abdicates of their responsibilities to act as a check on executive power. Instead of acting together to reign in the use of executive power, the party not sitting in the oval office complains while the party in the oval office cheers. Both parties are myopic, the one thinking that it is great that their leader is acting unilaterally to promote their goals and the other tacitly going along with it under the realization that at some point their guy (or gal) will be in the oval office wielding the same power.

Congress deserves all of the scorn heaped upon them by the public. They fail to do their job and then whine to the media about how the other side won't play nice. They are ridiculous and childish and I hope all of them are voted out in November. I have no expectation that their replacements will be any better, but perhaps the whiny voices of the new members of Congress will be slightly less annoying.

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