A Constitutional Republic or an Aristocracy?

When you examine our form of government, you find, as we are taught early on, that we do not have a strict democracy, but a constitutional republic. And in that constitutional republic, the offices and powers of government are supposed to be open to all. But do we really have a government that is “of the people, by the people and for the people?” Or do we have a government that is dominated by an aristocratic elite that functions to keep them as the elite and powerful? I would posit that the latter is the case in our present day America, even more so than it may have been in earlier days when certain classes and groups of people were explicitly kept out of the halls of government.

What would we expect to see if we truly had a government made up of representative citizens who see their job as actually serving their constituents, and what would we expect to see if we have a government made up of an aristocratic elite who see themselves as a special class of citizens?

Let’s take a look at some questions and see where the answers take us.

1.      If we have a truly representative government then the economic status of the members of Congress would reflect the economics of the country.

While one percent of Americans are millionaires, almost half of those in Congress are members of that elite financial class.[i]  This is even close. As of 2011, 47% of the members of Congress were millionaires and their financial status was getting stronger even though the country was going through a financial crisis. Now I am far from decrying a person’s success in a capitalistic economy, but how is it that our supposed representatives’ financial status improves while they are supposed to be serving us while the rest of the country is taking a financial hit.

We don’t have a representative cross-section of America, or even a cross-section of financially above average Americans. What we have is a Congress dominated by a financially elite class of individuals. And this group of individuals increases their wealth while in Congress. And then they have pensions after they leave Congress that ensure that they stay as members of the elite economic class.

That sounds more like an aristocracy to me.

2.      If we have a truly representative government, then we would expect to see a fairly consistent turnover of people within the Congress.

I am fairly certain that this will come as no surprise to anyone, but once you get elected to Congress, you’ve got better than a 90% chance of holding on to your seat.[ii] Your chances of getting defeated are more likely if you happen to represent a district whose lines get changed before an election or if you represent a traditional swing district. Otherwise, once you get to DC, you have a great shot at staying until you retire or die.

Even during the great “Republican Revolution” of 1994, 90% of members of the House who ran retained their seats and 93% of Senators did. In the House, since 1964 the lowest percentage of House members who sought reelection who were successful was 85% in 1970.[iii] The Senate fared a little worse with only 55% retaining their seats in the Reagan Revolution of 1980 but since 1988, the percentages have either been at or above 79%. And let us not forget that only one-third of Senators run in each election, so it’s much easier to impact the percentages in one year. House members run every two years, and it is just staggering to see results like we have. I don’t like much of what I read in the Huffington Post, but I have to agree with Todd Phillips in his article following the last election when he asked how 91% of Congress get reelected when they have a 10% approval rating?[iv] I may not agree with Mr. Phillips suggestions, but I do agree with his warning at the end of the post.

The results of the recent congressional elections should be a red light telling us that our government is not in the control of the people. This is a very dangerous situation. If people are unwilling to do something now, we will surely pay dearly for it in the not-too-distant future.[v]

Having a group of people who are in power and stay in power even when people strongly disapprove of what they are doing doesn’t sound like a representative government. It sounds like a privileged ruling class. It sounds like an aristocracy. Has Congress become a de facto House of Lords?

3.      If we had a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”, then we should expect that all the laws passed by the government would apply to all citizens equally.

Okay, stop laughing. Isn’t this common sense? That was part of the point of John Locke’s Treatises on Civil Government which were the foundations of Jeffersonian democracy. If the governing authorities can make laws that don’t apply to them, then there are no natural constraints on what they will do. They can pass laws that might damage others and not worry about it because those consequences do not impact their lives. That’s what monarchs did. That’s what nobles did. That what aristocrats did.  That’s not what representatives of the people are supposed to do. [vi]

“Let them eat cake.”

[iii] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] The latest fiasco in this long line of Congressional exemptions is the so-called Affordable Care Act. http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/23/exclusive-rand-paul-wants-chief-justice-roberts-all-federal-workers-to-enroll-in-obamacare/ (Accessed 9/23/2013) So even when we are told that the law is supposed to apply to them, when they find out what the consequences are, out comes a “ruling” that exempts them from the impact. This time from the Office of Personnel Management. What a shocker.