Ted Yarbrough is studying law, and blogs as Texan Tory. He has written a thesis on Thatcherism’s effect on British culture.
For the third and last instalment of Lucky You!, I am discarding the bullet points. From here on out I will be writing in American style “straight talk”. And the straight talk is that America has deep-seated structural problems that the UK does not.
The US was originally founded on the idea of limited government. America’s founders put in place a written constitution which would severally restrict what the central government could do. (These restrictions on government and liberties were based on traditional English liberties.) However, in recent years (largely starting with Woodrow Wilson’s progressive administration), the old American limited federal government system has eroded to the point of not being in existence, as it is today.
America is much different than probably the image Britons or Europeans have of it. It is not very self-sufficient any more for most of the country (exceptions being places like Texas), and the governing structure is highly centralised around Washington; very similar in practice to the EU. (Washington DC is now the richest part of America, it pays to be connected to government in 2013 America.) The vast, vast, majority of American laws are made by career appointed bureaucrats under the executive branch. Even a cynical law student like me was stunned to find out in my “Legislation and Regulation” class the thousands upon thousands of “regulations” (in layman’s terms laws) made every year with no check or balance to “tell them no”. Furthermore, even the laws passed by congress delegate the law-making authority (“implementation”) of our laws to “the secretary” who is a cabinet official appointed by the President; who then has his or her career bureaucrats loosely make laws similar to the original bill. Americans are relatively powerless to control our own outcomes, no matter who is elected, because of our bureaucratic establishment. And it gets worse!
The real exercise of democratic power the American people have is electing the President of the United States. Every four years, Americans choose between two people of usually similar political viewpoints (there are exceptions, Reagan was wonderful and was 180 degrees different from Carter) to determine who heads the bureaucracies and who gets to appoint the federal judges who will serve for life. However, the power of the judiciary is in practice subject to the will of no one.
Although in theory the federal judiciary bases its decisions around the written Constitution, in actuality the judiciary has created for itself and the people of our country, a sort of supreme common law (“constitutional law”) that determines all final questions. In most every other democratic nation this type of power is not vested in 9 people in black robes. Their decisions are usually ideologically mixed, some of their decisions conservatives agree with (such as say Bush v. Gore), others leftists agree with, but what they decide is final and is the law of the land. Even what little power our state governments and congress have left is subject to their approval and there are many examples of this odd “emperor justice” system our country has fallen under. For instance, Arizona was told it cannot enforce its own laws to try to stem the tide of 12 million illegal immigrants in this country and now this country has virtually no way of dealing with the problem. California was told it cannot ban gay marriage and soon, the next time the question comes before the court, all American states will be forced to adopt gay marriage. And Texas was told it cannot ban abortion in Roe v. Wade and for 40 years our country has had abortion. States can pass laws for themselves that may irritate the central government but in the end they are subject to the feds approval, the opposite of the idea of a federal system.
Many of you reading this might be thinking, “wait didn’t the Congress ‘shut down’ the US Federal Government? How can you say the legislature is not powerful!” Yes, congress can deny money to the executive branch for the funding of the government (an old tactic being resurrected by the new “Tea Party” Republicans) even to the point of “shutting it down”, and/or not pass the bill the President wants. However, as I explain in my blog, the government is not really shut down, it is only “non-essential” government employees who do not work during a temporary government shut down and the shut downs never have lasted more than a couple of weeks.). The fact remains even when the government is denied money by congress the executive branches march on in operation, money going out to the class that depends on it. For proof of that, look no further then the irony that the day the government “shuts down” the government launches its new healthcare insurance exchanges! The “shutdown” is a political ploy by the Democrats to frame Republicans as evil extremists for political gain, nothing more. “When all is said and done,” the true three branches of government of the United States in 2013 are the President (who can send and has sent our soldiers to war zones around the world without congressional approval despite what the constitution says), the unelected for-life judiciary, and the unelected for-life bureaucratic establishment.
Great Britain is more democratic than the US. If the British people don’t like what the government is doing they put in another party into power. The British system ushered in the socialism of Attlee and the free market privatisations of Thatcher, but it followed the will of the British people. You, Great Britain, control your own destiny. The recent example of the British Parliament voting against the Syrian war shows how much more democratic the UK is than the US now. And although the UK has elected fools (usually in the Labour party) to govern, you Britons have elected a great government led by the Conservatives to guide you through the economic storm Labour left you. My hope is that in 2015 Britons elect a majority Conservative government to continue the progress. Yes, Britain has bureaucracies, and there have been horrendous laws passed, and yes, now the UK has the EU, that like the US central government imposes laws without the people’s consent. However, if the Conservatives are re-elected, you Britons can choose to leave the EU altogether; and right now the numbers look good that you will.
So that is, in summary, why an American is envious of what you Brits have going for you. Your government is making changes that are improving the UK on all fronts, but most impressively on the economy. I hope, if anything, these three articles brought perspective to the good direction your country is headed. I further hope they shined light on the brilliance of the British constitution that is the world’s oldest continuous system of government. Smile Britannia, although there is a lot of work to be done, you have a lot to be thankful for.