I’ve been re-reading the Federalist Papers and was struck by Madison’s caution about factions in Number 10. He writes:
“Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens… that measures are too often decided not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”
That certainly describes the current Democratic majority in Congress, but it also describes the recent Republican majority, from Tom Delay’s K Street shakedown, to Bill Thomas’ imperious running of the Ways and Means Committee, to exploding earmarks, to keeping the vote open beyond precedent on the Medicare prescription drug bill.
These tactics are unacceptable from either party and they help explain why both parties in Congress are held in such low esteem. There is too much at stake – including the continued existence of this American experiment – to continue these games of Gotcha and Payback when you assume control.
If the Tea Party movement has stood for anything, it is to restore our Constitution and the principles of limited government. That includes limiting the power of whatever party happens to be in the majority at any given time.
As you take over the majority in Congress, I urge you to treat the minority party with respect and honor. You have been elected, but so has the other side. You have a duty to represent your constituents, but so do they. Your majority is not permanent, so set standards of majority behavior that you would like to see when you are again in the minority. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
That does not imply being wishy-washy. It does not suggest a limp bipartisanship or even compromise. We need you to push hard for a conservative agenda.
But a conservative agenda is not limited to spending, taxes and national security. It must also include restoring the role of the legislative branch to be on an equal footing with the executive. In recent years Congress has been so bitterly divided that it could not resist the encroachments of administrations of both parties. This is not healthy for our republican form of government. It destroys the checks and balances that were so carefully designed by the founders.
Bring back the rules that allow each side to have its say. Bring back the legislative procedures that require bills to be debated first in committee and amendments to be germane to the subject of the bill. Restore the budgeting process. Stop passing laws that are retroactive. These procedures all were developed to ensure full and fair debate of all matters before the legislature. Short-circuiting them creates bitterness and resentment.
On the state side, I implore you Republicans to resist the temptation to enshrine your positions through gerrymandering. There should not be any “safe seats” for members of Congress. That is precisely what enables Members to ignore the people and it leads to arrogance and bad policy.
Unlike in years past, the vigilance of an awakened population will not end with the election. “Considerate and virtuous citizens” will be watching very closely and you will hear from us if you squander this opportunity to put things right.