Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The duty of elected officials

Incivility has reached a new, disturbing low. The city Council in the small Arkansas town of Gould has passed an ordinance forbidding the formation of any group in town without the Council’s permission and a second ordinance forbidding the mayor to meet with anyone without the Council’s permission. Both ordinances are patently unconstitutional, violating the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of free right of assembly.

The intransigence of political ideologues in Washington makes me wonder about our future as a nation.

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell has proposed a new approach to resolving the developing crisis over the federal debt ceiling. He suggests Congress passing legislation authorizing the President to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress acts to disapprove the move. If Congressional action triggers a Presidential veto, Congress would have to disapprove the increase in the debt ceiling by a two-thirds majority to block the increase. This proposal inverts the normal legislative process, shifting responsibility from the legislative to the executive branch and pushing the U.S. further along a slippery slope toward dictatorship. McConnell’s move is politically inspired; he wants to avoid the need for Republicans to vote to increase the debt ceiling.

Election to political office confers prestige, power, and income. Election to political office also confers responsibility to act in the best interest of the electorate. Federal office holders explicitly affirm that obligation when they take their oath of office, swearing to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. An elected leader in the U.S. has a primary duty to uphold the Constitution, a duty that outweighs potentially conflicting duties to self, family, electorate, etc.

Clearly, the members of the Gould city Council have failed to fulfill that duty. The members of the U.S. Congress seem bent on emulating that bad example.

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