If the ghostly Founding Fathers were to rematerialize today, I have it on good authority -- mine -- that they would likely lament not having stamped a 200-year expiration date on their famed document, as a thoughtful safeguard against the vissicitudes of enough time allowing a reasonably good thing to go so terribly bad. In lieu of this, they might very well have rethought their entire experiment in quasidemocratic and divided government, sparing only the appended Bill of Rights.
This imagined "What if?" history -- known as "contingency theory" to dusty practioners of the dark and empty art -- bubbles up from this morning's NYT piece on how leaderless our government is today, and how leaderless it shall remain for at least the next year and a half, following, alas, six-and-a-half years of the even worse, which is to say, six-and-a-half years of George W. Bush as a fully empowered leader. We were damned when we did and now damned when we don't.
The NYT analysis centers on the lame-duck/dead-duck phenomenon of a president's final years of a term-limited do-over (which of course the Founding Fathers didn't prescribe, but let's not quibble), and the phenomenon this time around appears especially lame, and, in the midst of an intractable war, especially deadly.
"President Bush enters the final 18 months of his presidency in danger of losing control," observes the analysis with profound understatement, "over a party that once marched in lockstep with him." In view of just who this particular president is, that's naturally a good thing; problem is, there's nothing -- certainly no other party of any organizational skill or unified agenda -- to fill the powerless, directionless vacuum.
But my question revolves around something deeper, and I imagine it's the 800-pound-gorilla question that would dawn immediately on the rematerialzed Founding Fathers: "How in God's name did this country ever put an idiot like George W. Bush in the White House in the first place, and what's more, how has he managed to hold on so dreadfully long?"
I have little doubt, nay, no doubt, that the Founding Fathers' first act, given a shot at their own do-over, would have been to trash the arcane electoral college system. The antidemocratic potholes of that little gem may have been passable when it cost, say, Sam Tilden a presidential easy chair in 1876, but when it permitted a certified imbecile to trump the democratic majority in 2000 -- well, enough is enough, and much better to block such potential catastrophes from the get-go.
Still, going even deeper, I also imagine the Founding Fathers would have rethought the whole notion of separated government. This leader thinks and does one thing, that leader thinks and does something else, and yet other leaders think and do something entirely different. It's more than a formula for lame-duckdom and mere gildlock till the next election; it's a formula for sustained, recidivist and even absurd stagnation. The people want or demand one thing or another, while the "system" sits and chokes, doing absolutely nothing.
Indeed, I imagine the Founding Fathers would conclude, after reading a newspaper or two from 2007, that a parliamentary system -- of the species that evolved post-George III -- wasn't such a bad idea after all. Should the majority congressional party happen to be so moronic as to elevate an even bigger moron to the White House, a no-confidence curtain would fall soon enough and the nation would be spared the gasping, directionless, preposterous holding pattern that we now find ourselves in, with all its attendant and needless evils.
The NYT piece quotes a political scientist as saying "the president's mojo is completely gone." Yesterday, as an immense herd of other writers was doing the same, I justifiably denounced the president for trampling on the Constitution. But perhaps that document's mojo has played itself out as well. We gave it a good go, but our mountainous problems now seem, in large part, to come about because of it, not in spite of it. Just perhaps.