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Who’s Got the Power?

Hayden Hollingsworth
Hayden Hollingsworth

There are all kinds of power:  Physical, as in the NFL; parental, although that frequently seems impotent; financial, for most of us a whole lot less than two years ago; or political, where the balance is always tenuous.  In government, that’s a good thing, for the most part.  Think of any nation in which all the power rests in a single person and you have named a system that ultimately fails, usually catastrophically.

We’ve heard a lot about the balance of power in our country, particularly when one of the governmental branches feels threatened by the others.  Within the Executive branch everyone knows the ultimate power lies with the President but if you ever watched “West Wing” you have had a glimpse of the infighting that occurs below that awesome office.  In a recent administration, which shall not be named, the real power was “behind the throne,” as the British used to say in the time Cardinal Wolsey.  When one argues for a single six-year term for the President the first objection is there would be no recourse to curb his power other than impeachment.  As it is now, from the day after inauguration, the administration is jockeying for a second term.

The same is true for Congress, particularly the House of Representatives.  With only a two-year term, by the time the newly elected congressperson can find the way around the capitol building, their power is being challenged by another election. Ninety percent of the time, they win. When they are up for re-election after a decade in office, so many favors have been granted and so much money contributed to the incumbent that life-time tenure is almost assured, even if there is ill-gotten gain stored in the home freezer.  The Senate is a little better off with their six-year stint.  Even sexual dalliance and Playboy centerfolds may not be enough to dislodge a senator.  I have always suspected the only candidate in the world that could have lost to Senator Robb was Oliver North, but that’s old news.

The third branch, the Judicial, is another matter: Lifetime appointments for Supreme Court Justices and Federal judges.  In the recent Presidential campaign, more than a little argument was voiced over what type of Justices the ultimate winner would select, and rightly so, since the Constitution which they protect has profound effects on our daily lives.  Even with all that power, few of us know much about them; I would be surprised if 1 person in a 100 can name the 9 current Justices, let alone those who have served in the last half-century.

All this being said, how is it that the 535 members of Congress have such a wide distribution of power?  There are some whose names are household words; they control what legislation will be presented and in what fashion.  There are others who are totally unknown outside and, in some cases even inside, their own districts.  I could probably name a dozen or so Senators and maybe that many House members. There are a few who really have a power that is envied even by the President and we all know them.

In the run up to the end of this session, one or two Senators are said to hold the health reform issue in their hands.  Senators Olympia Snow and Joe Lieberman are most prominent.  One can only hope that they will put lobby and party interests aside, not holding the process hostage to their personal beliefs.

Our Congressman, Bob Goodlatte, has been in Washington a good many more years than the five terms he promised us when first elected.  Once you have power, it must be very hard to lay it down and return to the modesty of ordinary life.  It surely can be an addicting, powerful intoxicant.  Mr. Goodlatte is a good man but, along with many members of Congress who oppose the current bills, little is offered other than platitudes such as, “While we can all agree that our current health care system is flawed; there are many different ideas about how to fix it.”  None are forthcoming, but this:  “. . . . not put more power in the hands of Washington bureaucrats.”

We hope that those who have positioned themselves at the tipping point, those with power in their pockets, will make the wise choices.  If not, it may be helpful to remember the words of Winston Churchill:  “Democracy is the worst possible form of government . . . except for all the rest.”

By Hayden Hollingsworth
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