When we are attempting to solve a problem or overcome a challenge it is imperative we seek out the root cause. “This is generally referred to as Root Cause Analysis, finding the real cause of the problem and dealing with it rather than simply continuing to deal with the symptoms.” (Systems Thinking, 2012) During each election cycle, over the past 100+ years at least, citizens are fed a large number of issues with many personalities explaining how, if elected, they will be the champions of change and the one who will fix issues. After taking office we are then told by these same agents for change why they are unable to effectively deal with the issues. During the next election cycle we repeat this process and ask ourselves why we are not seeing the changes promised.
By either selecting a new representative or returning a ‘more senior’ member to their respective governing bodies we hold on to some form of hope our issues will be dealt with effectively by the personalities we entrust. Or, as often occurs each cycle, we get frustrated by a system that does not seem to represent our issues at all so we choose to walk away from participation. Too often we end each cycle with a minority participation commanding a majority vote or, better said, the minority controls the majority due to a lack of participation by those eligible to vote. For those who win their respective campaigns and join the governing bodies it seems many immediately forget the issues they won with and fall into line within a systemic system delivering poor results.
Campaign cycles have now reached a point where there is never an end to it. Our media accepts the never ending campaign cycles due to the fact it is profitable. Whether selling commercials or providing talking head political analysts with content and guests there are many ways for the media to profit from this on-going political assault on our senses. Promises made during campaigns are seldom something those making them can, or will, accomplish once we vote them in. Of course, despite the nation’s overall disapproval ratings of Congress and politicians in general, the local politician is never at fault and if we will just send her/him back they will have more seniority and a better chance to take care of the issues that matter most, often issues that don’t truly matter at all for they fail to target the root cause of our fall from federalism and ‘a wise and frugal government’ as Jefferson discussed.
More seniority is a systemically common reelection theme for those that have been in office for many, often too many, terms. We are told if we send someone else, a new person, they will simply be freshmen. They will be among members of a new freshman class that will have to start from the lowest levels and work their way up through the ranks. Along the way they may get certain committee appointments yet none on the more powerful committees or none in any type of leadership position such as a chairman or a coveted party leadership post we accept as being coveted and important.
Are you a freshman citizen? Do you deserve either less representation or more representation simply based on how long the person you elect is in Congress? Should we accept the fact we are not as deserving to have our ideas supported as someone whose representative has been in the legislative branch, at the state or federal level, longer? Most of you reading these questions are thinking of course not! We would not embrace the notion we rise and fall as freshmen or seniors due to the length of time or position our representatives are holding office.
Yet, we accept this tradition of having freshmen classes and seniority levels within our legislative branches because we do not consider if there is a freshman representative then there must also be freshmen citizens from their district. We also do not even consider how truly ridiculous this is while also being extremely damaging to our governing system under federalism.
However, under our system, isn’t this the way it works? In the house we have a speaker along with a majority leader and a minority leader. In the senate we have a president and the majority leader and minority leader. We also have the majority and minority whip positions along with assistant majority and minority leaders as well as chairmen of the different committees as determined by the majority party in power at the time. It is an organizational structure that is common federally, as well as locally in our states, and that is how legislative branches are organized.
The different committees also have differing levels of power and influence due to the nature of the legislative areas they oversee so a hierarchy of seniority naturally comes into play when selecting a person to serve as the chairperson. The more senior the member, the longer they have served through their reelection success, the better chance they have of filling key positions. It stands to reason this is a logical approach since we are quite use to seeing this type of promotion system in private companies. You don’t want rookies becoming the CEO after all. Besides, it is the organizational structure outlined in our governing laws, isn’t it?
On more than one occasion I have had people tell me I may well be against the notion of majority and minority leadership positions but unless I want to rip up the Constitution it is the way we are meant to operate. When I explain it is nothing but a long standing tradition that did not even begin until the early 1900s they become extremely skeptical. One person even accused me of being completely unaware of the way our founding fathers set up the federal legislative branch and recommended I take some time to study the Constitution before opening my mouth in opposition of the system that makes us freer than any other nation on earth. If you believe the advice was good and agree it is how we are to structure our legislative branch I will ask you to please send me the version of the Constitution that contains these requirements.
There are positions established in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 2 establishes the Speaker of the House. “The House of Representatives shall chuse their speaker and other Officers…” Section 3 establishes the President of the Senate position and assigns the Vice President of the United States to serve in that capacity. In addition, “[t]he Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.” By simply stating ‘other Officers’ in both sections there is nothing specifically unconstitutional about the traditional positions of majority and minority leader, or all the chairmen for that matter, but none of these positions are mandated.
They are merely a tradition established so long ago most people today have come to believe they are required for the Congress to operate. What these positions prove is all traditions are not necessarily good for us to follow. These traditional positions are good for the two largest political parties. Having them actually helps stave off any serious competition from smaller political parties. After all, why would any group of voters want to replace a democrat or republican with a third party candidate, or independent, who will never have a chance of rising to the majority or minority leadership position or even the whip position?
Here’s a quick side trip for you. Do you know where the title of ‘whip’ comes from? According the U.S. Senate website’s history section the title is derived from fox hunting. “The term “whip” comes from a fox-hunting expression — “whipper-in” — referring to the member of the hunting team responsible for keeping the dogs from straying from the team during a chase. Established early in the 20th century, the development of party whips coincided with the evolution of party leaders in the Senate.” They are also considered ‘assistant floor leaders’ that are to help the majority and minority leaders.
Think about this simple connection and how accurate the name really is. The ‘whipper-in’ keeps the dogs from straying during a chase and the ‘whip’ is charged with keeping the party members in line with what the party wants them to do regarding certain legislative actions. It does not matter what the citizens who elected the person wants, it matters what the party wants. All of the majority and minority leadership positions are focused around the party agenda as well. Here is the introduction into the history, as presented on the Senate website, in its entirety for us to consider.
The positions of party floor leader are not included in the Constitution but developed gradually in the 20th century. The first floor leaders were formally designated in 1920 (Democrats) and 1925 (Republicans).
The Senate Republican and Democratic floor leaders are elected by the members of their party in the Senate at the beginning of each Congress. Depending on which party is in power, one serves as majority leader and the other as minority leader. The leaders serve as spokespersons for their parties’ positions on issues. The majority leader schedules the daily legislative program and fashions the unanimous consent agreements that govern the time for debate.
The majority leader has the right to be called upon first if several senators are seeking recognition by the presiding officer, which enables him to offer motions or amendments before any other senator. (Emphasis added)
Take a minute and read the introduction again, slowly. Critically think about the insights this bit of obscure history tells us about today’s legislative processes at both federal and state levels, since this tradition has taken root in every state house across the country since it began federally. First, and foremost, consider how long these positions have been around in the senate. (They were first established a few years earlier in the house.) We are looking at nearly 100 years of having this type of two-party seniority based control in the legislative branch; a long tradition for sure.
Examine the second paragraph and consider the first three words in the Constitution Preamble while you do. Federalism was a form of governing established to allow the people to be responsible for their government. The majority and minority leader are elected at the start of each Congress by members of their party who are also serving in Congress. If you elected an independent your representative has no say in the leadership positions. Also, if you elected a new representative they will not have a chance of winning one of these coveted positions. This is why so many long serving politicians try so hard to convince those voting for them to send them back no matter what since the longer they serve the better chance they have of being elected to a powerful, party position. (Can you start to see where the tradition of career politicians really started to take root?)
In the same paragraph look at the fundamental task these elected ‘leaders’ are charged with. They are to serve as spokespersons for their parties’ position on issues. If you wonder why Harry Reid doesn’t seem to speak for his states’ citizens this may well start giving you some important understanding. You will also start to understand why so much campaign funding funnels from out of state for long serving senators and representatives. They are required to not only support but also work on helping craft party positions on issues. Today there is not a lot of concern for whether or not the people of the leader’s state will get upset simply due to the statistical reality few are ever voted out of office while holding this power position. Citizens of the leader’s state are usually convinced, in sufficient numbers, not to vote against them since the state would lose this person’s seniority or rank…yes, rank!
The majority leader actually is tasked with setting the daily legislative program. If the party does not like an item being discussed or want to deal with an issue the people may want the Congress to deal with the majority leader simply does not put in on the program. We see this as a standard practice today and it may outrage many but it is part of the gradual development of this position’s ‘authority’ under the tradition of majority and minority party positions within the legislative branch.
If you are not already starting to boil over this root cause to many of our political problems today the last part of the introduction is sure to get you nearing the 212 degree mark. It is written so nonchalantly. “The majority leader has the right….” Now according to most dictionaries the first definition of the word ‘right’ is something that is good, proper, or just. Does it sound good, proper, or just that one person, from one area, somehow has the right to speak first or has the right to offer their preferred legislation first? Where is the right of your ‘freshman’ representative in all this? More importantly, where is your right in all this?
One of the keys to early success in the United States’ legislative infancy was the fact all those elected by the people or by the people’s representatives at the state level (federal senators prior to 1913’s mistake of adding the 17th Amendment) was the fact each had an equal opportunity to voice their views and speak on behalf of their people and state they were to represent. This created some extremely passionate debate sessions but nobody had good, proper, or just authority over another. There was often respectful times given to those considered to be elder statesmen but there was no right for one to always be able to speak first. “This right of first recognition enables the majority leader to offer amendments, substitutes, and motions to reconsider before any other senator.” (U.S. Senate website, 2012)
According to the history, “[f]ormer Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd called first recognition “the most potent weapon in the Majority Leader’s arsenal.”” This potent weapon is not a weapon of the people; it is a weapon of the party…the party that happens to hold the majority numbers at the time. A weapon shared by the two biggest parties in the country and one that will not be held by any smaller party or any independent as long as the tradition stands.
Operating inside the U.S. Senate today are many political party leadership positions. The majority and minority leaders and whips are just four. There are now assistant majority and minority leadership roles, conference chairperson roles, policy committee chairpersons, conference secretaries, and senatorial campaign committee chairs…inside the legislative branch operating as a part of the senate! There is little wonder why so much division occurs and so little can get accomplished as these many party positions have ‘gradually developed’ over the past 100+ years.
Having the party campaign committees organized inside the legislature should shine enough of a light on the fact this tradition helps in sustaining career politicians, year round campaigning, and systemic locks on the ability to truly conduct the business of the people. The organization is far too busy conducting the business of the party…the two largest parties. This tradition also shows very clearly why no third party has been successful in mounting any type of wide-scale representation during the past century. It also begins to help understand why smaller special interest groups can wield a louder voice than their numbers would suggest as plausible.
This brief introduction is designed to help ignite a desire to learn more about one of the very important root causes to our problems today. The legislative branch is held captive to a very bad tradition. These positions can serve a purpose outside the branch if the parties choose to have them (and pay for them) yet when those elected, who have sworn an oath to defend our Constitution, enter the chamber it is critically important not to have majority and minority positions but rather have equal representation of the people and the states.
We will delve deeper into this subject yet I humbly implore you to consider our legislative branches operating without the tradition inside the chamber. I will also request you help begin an important discussion with the aim for understanding and action to remove the tradition as a vital step toward restoring federalism, checks and balances, and the proper role of government in our society. It is only one step yet it is a step that does not require any repeal of an amendment (as we must do with the 17th) or any change in any laws. It simply requires a very loud, focused voice demanding the tradition end.