In an op-ed for The New York Times, Robert Reich, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, argues about the negative impact on democracy resulting from Congress’ inability to get much done. Mr. Reich notes that Congress has only passed 15 bills this year and that Congress’ failure to address environmental and fiscal issues has resulted in these issues being pushed to the periphery, an outer edge populated by the Federal Reserve and the States.
According to Mr. Reich the transparency necessary for democracy is lost where the Federal Reserve is carrying the burden of getting the economy going versus Congress, and the States are addressing immigration, abortion, gay rights, where Congress has arguably left a vacuum and most of the electorate are less likely to follow the goings on in their state houses.
Mr. Reich also has reservations about Congress shirking the issue of climate change leaving policy to the rule making initiatives of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
While I don’t think Mr. Reich is being pompous by preferring these issues be addressed by Congress, I don’t think that democracy has taken a back seat simply because other branches and tiers of government are filling in the void.
Where state legislatures are addressing issues such as immigration, they are still subject to the principles of democracy. The representatives crafting laws on the state level are the best gauge for the impact these national issues have on their state constituents. I agree that representatives appear to be driven by the national arguments being espoused by their national leadership, and that their constituents are probably more swayed by national news and conflicts on the federal level than the more mundane aspects of their state economies, but that is no excuse for writing off democracy as a principle that is followed on the state level.
What Mr. Reich is saying, at the risk of being pompous, is that these decisions should be left to our national legislature where we can receive from on high a one standard fits all policy. By taking the central government approach to addressing climate control, the economy, abortion, and gay rights, we head off any conservative trends that we may see coming out of southern and western states.
But if we really believe in democracy, shouldn’t we take the risk of allowing the masses, whichever state they reside and congregate in, to send the messages to the national government through the actions of their state legislatures. Should we trust the people?