Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Activists in Power

I think one of our biggest problems with politics is that people keep redefining terms. The April 4th Cato Podcast is a good example of the confusion that comes when people try to unilaterally change terms. In this podcast, Clint Block tries to argue for increased judicial activism. Clint Block wants jurists who actively strike down unconstitutional laws.

Apparently, Clint Block wants to replace the progressive-activists with conservative activists. While the statement is provocative, it also ends up mucking with accepted definitions.

The problem, of course, is that when you have this wholesale mucking with definitions, you end up destroying the ability of people to talk about an issue.

The current Wikipedia definition of activism is: "Activism, in a general sense, can be described as intentional action to bring about social or political change."

IMHO, what we want is a government where people are actively doing their job. A supreme court judge who is actively doing the job would be challenging the Constitutionality of new laws. Acting within one's own sphere of influence really is not activism. An activist-conservative is an oxymoron. A Supreme Court Justice who is actively defending the Constitution is not being an activist. Such a person is just being active.

It seems to me that many of the greatest problems of our day arise from political leaders who try to influence issues that fall outside their sphere of authority. In this regards, some of the greatest frustrations of George Bush is that he keeps trying to expand the authority of the executive into areas that people think is inaproriate. Even worse, he seems to be trying to expand the authority of the executive while failing to act on issues that people think require presidential action.

Bush has pushed courts aside in areas that people think a court's involvement is needed. Likewise, we see more and more legislation coming from the executive without sufficient debate or input from Congress.

I find Congress guilty of the same sin. Congress has a nasty habit of relinquishing in legislative authority to the executive and to the courts. Our Congressmen seem to spend most of them time performing administrative tasks in the form of constituent services and earmarked legislation. Congressmen love to globetrot and dabble in diplomacy in the form of fact finding missions. Even worse, it appears at times that the favorite act of Congress is to haul individuals and companies before Congress for political judgments in the form of Congressional inquiries.

The insatiable desire of politicians to act outside their sphere of influence has created a bastardized government where our judges spend their day making up and administering laws, our Congressmen spend their days micromanaging government and judging in Congressional inquiries, and our executive writes the majority of legislation and selectively obeys and ignores laws.

Our politicians seem to be driven by an insatiable desire to act outside the sphere of their influence.

Perhaps, much of the shrillness in Washington is a result of public servants who fail to do their jobs while running off on crusades to do other people's jobs.

Most of the Cato Podcasts are worthwhile. I am filing Clint Block's call for Libertarian-Activist judges as something that just muddles the debate. The world is in dire need of judges who understand their role and who actively engage in that role. The last thing we need is a new slate of judges seeking to use the courts as a pulpit to actuate social change.

I think one of the few positive things to happen in the Bush Administration is that Bush made a legitimate stab at nominating jurists who were interested in maintaining the integrity of the court, and not simply interested in pushing a conservative agenda.


Scott Hinrichs said...

You have coined something that has long been floating around in my head. Our Founders knew that the three branches of government would constantly want to expand into the jurisdictions of the other two. What they did not foresee was a government where all three branches have willingly relinquished parts of their prescribed jurisdictions to other branches.

y-intercept said...

Perhaps there is a natural tendency to want to distance oneself from the consequences of one's actions. When a person is truly focused on their job, they have to take the responsibility for the results of their job. When a person relinquish their primary duties and spends the day meddling in the affairs of others, they get all the warm fuzzies of righteousness without feeling the troubling burdens of their own duties.

This is a natural tendency, but I think the modern (dare I say progressive view) is more prone to this type of thinking. Activism teaches people to seek social change outside their realm of influence, while the classical view was for people to try to create change within their realm of influence.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Good point. The Wall street Journal has an op-ed piece by a big wig lawyer that ponders the question of whether Ms. Pelosi's recent junket to Syria was a felony. He makes some valid points, but I don't think we'll see anyone pushing this angle. Perhaps if they did it would encourage the branches to mind their own business.

y-intercept said...

The Congress (and courts) have a duty to mind the president. But, they need to do so in the framework of the Constitution and not simply by going out an doing what they think the president ought to do.

There is a very good argument to be made that the Republican Congress was remiss in their duty. A large number of conservative groups actually seem happy that there is a opposition Congress barking at an administration that seems to have adopted the progressive methodology.

When you get down to it, the whole point of the hardball stance to diplomacy is that it strengthens your hand in negotiation. Someone running out and trying to steal the thunder by making alternative peace initiatives completely undermines the ability to develop and negotiate from a strong hand.

There are so many things I wish Bush had done differently. I really think that one of the problems he has is that the legions of politicians who want to claim the glory of brokering the peace move in and undercuts any overture that the president makes toward peace.