Imagining representative government…

Think about it. How many times have you heard that some particular government action – while right-thinking and in the best interest of the largest number of people – would nevertheless be “political suicide” for anyone sponsoring or promoting it.

Imagine if we had a true REPRESENTATIVE government, with people like you and me, taking a brief time out from our careers, to represent our brothers and sisters in the House and Senate and in local and state governments. Imagine if there were no career politicians, thereby eliminating the very possibility of political suicide.

Imagine if we truly had the type of government that our “founding fathers” envisioned. Imagine what could be accomplished!

Where is this coming from, today? First, let me quote some facts and figures from today’s Wall Street Journal article titled “Criminal Code Tough to Crack – Struggle to Revamp Illinois Laws Offers Glimpse of What Congress Faces in Its Effort.”

  • In the year 2000, an effort was begun to revamp the laws of Illinois’ criminal code. Throw out the obsolete or contradictory ones, clean up and modernize those remaining, adjust the penalty to match the crime.
  • In one specific area, the body of law covering fraud in Illinois State law was represented in 70,000 words. After two years of effort, a commission produced a 600-page report. It contained a proposal to reduce the statement of law governing fraud to 2,729 words.
  • The report went nowhere. It ran into opposition. It didn’t accurately reflect the views of some who provided input. It died.

This is one example of one set of laws of one state out of 50. In 2004, a second commission was formed, nicknamed “CLEAR” – the Criminal Law Edit, Alignment and Reform Initiative. I find it necessary to paste here an entire paragraph from the referenced WSJ article (but you should really read the entire article!) to underscore my point in writing this article.

In another case, some commissioners wanted to give judges greater discretion in sentencing for residential burglary, which under Illinois law carries a four-year minimum sentence. That meant a hungry person coming through an open door to steal a loaf of bread faced the same minimum prison time as someone who planned and pulled off a major jewel theft from someone’s home, said Mr. Baroni.

Lawmakers on the commission argued that softening such penalties would be “political suicide,” said Mr. Baroni. The idea was dropped.

[Paul Baroni is Clear’s director and a Chicago attorney.]

It has taken Illinois a decade to reduce its 1200-page criminal code by one third. Given the same operating conditions and chances for success, how long would it take to do the same with a federal criminal code that is more than 20 times larger? And how long would it take, given that the operating conditions are clearly not the same, when dealing with the added issue of the limits federal authority vs state’s rights to decide?

I feel it is simply undoable as a standalone project. The aptly-named “lawmakers” cannot think outside of the box they’ve created for themselves, and so there is no possibility that they will deliver a unified, practicable, fair, meaningful and relevant federal criminal code, ever. This is one of those cases where you don’t know what’s most important in your life until you have a fire or a flood. What do you grab first? That’s when you know what’s important.

We need flood-think in Washington. We need people who want to get back to what they were about. Back to their lives, their families, their towns. We need non-career-oriented politicians to go in and disembowel what their predecessors created, and make something that, flaws and all, represents the way most of us really think about the matters at hand.

In short, we need a representative government to lead the way forward. It’s a very old idea; it came from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, published in its most widely-known form on my birthdate (February 14) in 1776. Perhaps that’s why I feel so attached to it. I’ll close with an excerpt from that document:

…that the elected might never form to themselves an interest separate from the electors, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often; because as the elected might by that means return and mix again with the general body of the electors in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves. And as this frequent interchange will establish a common interest with every part of the community, they will mutually and naturally support each other, and on this (not on the unmeaning name of king) depends the strength of government, and the happiness of the governed.

[public domain text available, among numerous other sources, at usconstitution.net.]

Imagine a different future, as envisioned so long ago. We’ve certainly gone astray. Let’s get back on track.

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