Princeton's Singer: Founding Fathers Responsible for Shutdown

Friday, 04 Oct 2013 08:36 AM

By Michael Kling

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Blame our Founding Fathers for the current political deadlock, says Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton.

Americans speak reverently about the Founding Fathers, the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution. Yet Washington's latest government shutdown is due to a fundamental flaw in the constitution, Singer writes in an article for Project Syndicate.

The flaw is the separation of powers. And it's making the Founding Fathers look foolish, he argues.

Editor’s Note:
Opinion: Retirees to Be Hit With Social Security Cuts

Having just won a war against tyranny, the Founding Fathers separated the legislature from the executive branch to prevent another tyranny. The legislature sets the government's budget and its ability to borrow but cannot remove the president or cabinet members.

"The potential for impasse is obvious," Singer writes.

Given that flaw, the real question is not why Washington is gridlocked, but rather why the government doesn't shutdown more often.

"That," he says, "is testimony to most U.S. legislators' common sense and to their willingness to compromise in order to avoid doing serious harm to the country they serve — until now, that is."

There's no chance of fixing the flaw to resolve the current impasse. Constitutional amendments need approval of three-quarters of the states.

But Singer offers another solution to end Washington's hyper-partisan politics.

Many Republican Congressmen who forced the shutdown down care about sparking a public backlash. That's because their districts "are gerrymandered to an extent that citizens of most other democracies would consider preposterous."

Since state legislatures draw district boundaries and Republicans control most state legislatures, Republican-controlled legislatures have created districts that give their party control of the House, Singer notes. That means Republicans worry more about primary challenges from the right than the general population.

Politicians could create an impartial commission to set fair boundaries for House districts, he suggests, noting there's no constitutional barrier.

"In America's current environment of extreme political polarization, however, such an outcome is almost as unlikely as a constitutional amendment preventing the House of Representatives from denying the government the funds that it needs to govern."

Others have also complained that gerrymandering districts has handed offices to increasingly conservative Republicans, making a shutdown resolution less likely.

For instance, President Obama won Ohio by almost 2 points in 2012 but Republicans took 12 of the state's 16 House seats, according to ThinkProgress. The average Republican was elected in districts where Obama won less than 40 percent of the vote.

"In other words," states ThinkProgress, "the people holding our government hostage right now have little to fear from non-Republican voters and a great deal to fear from the highly conservative set that dominates GOP primaries — and they can thank gerrymandering for the job security they now enjoy."

Editor’s Note: Opinion: Retirees to Be Hit With Social Security Cuts

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Former Treasury Official Patterson: Political Impasse Could Cause Recession

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