Senator (and self-imagined Native American) Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is now railing against the ills of “concentrated power,” and claims that addressing it ought to be a bipartisan issue. However, her assessment of the problem is too myopic and her proposed solutions fall predictably short of offering an actual remedy.
In a speech at the 2017 Center for American Progress “Ideas Conference” on Tuesday – where up-and-comers on the Democratic bench started laying the groundwork for the party’s next presidential primary – Warren hung President Trump and his administration in rhetorical effigy, using them as poster children for the failings of the D.C. swamp:
Accountable government is the basis of American democracy. But for years, it’s been slipping away. For years, government has worked better and better for those at the top, pushing the concerns of everyone else further and further behind. There are a lot of reasons for this. But two of them are actually pretty obvious to most Americans – concentrated money and concentrated power. It’s time to speak plainly about these problems and start thinking seriously about how to fix them. Because concentrated money and concentrated power are corrupting our democracy – and becoming dangerously worse with Donald Trump in the White House.
“Set aside debates of big government versus small government, more government versus less government,” she said to her liberal audience. “The most important thing we need is accountable government. A government not just for the rich or powerful, but a government that works for — and answers to — all of us.”
Firstly, Warren’s opening salvo about “big versus small government” is flawed on its face. Any discussion of government accountability also necessitates one about the size and scope of government. The more power that is given to politicians and bureaucrats, and the more of both that exist, it makes it intrinsically more difficult for even the most active and virtuous citizenry to keep tabs on their government.
However, Warren’s speech was more a jeremiad against the current White House administration, Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the professional backgrounds of Trump’s advisors, ongoing Russia speculation, and so on — stopping short of addressing the problem that perhaps Trump inherited a too-powerful office to begin with.
Eschewing a truly unifying, bipartisan message about the concentration of power in the executive overall, Warren’s messaging was, per the norm, reduced to hyper-partisan rhetoric. To castigate the current administration’s use of executive power as a “plaything” and make no mention of President Obama’s scandal-laden “pen and phone” presidency takes focus away from the systemic, and makes the issues partisan all over again.
Sen. Liz Warren was right in one respect at the conference: Renewing our federal order, creating healthy boundaries between levels of government, and giving each other a wide berth of liberty, as citizenry shouldn’t be a partisan issue. But it shouldn’t have been one for the past eight years, either.
But the biggest flaw in Warren’s attempted bipartisan appeal was her insistence on which debates are supposedly unnecessary for government accountability – i.e. state vs. federal and legislative vs. executive vs. judicial. These measures of accountability, built into our constitutional framework, are in need of greater renewal, rather than advancement.
This debate over how best to watch the watchers is not new. Not remotely. In case anyone had forgotten, the zealous evasion of tyranny is hardwired into the political DNA of the American people, as such a debate predated and, indeed, gave birth to our republic.
“If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary,” wrote James Madison in Federalist No. 51. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Ironically, Warren and her fellow progressivists – both current and past – have sought to remedy the ever-looming threat of tyranny with more concentrated power in the hands of the governing. This is, and has always been, akin to dousing a kitchen fire with a bucket full of gasoline.
The same irony is found in Sen. Warren’s remedies, which do nothing effectively to take power away from the centralized executive and restore it to Congress, the states, or the people, but simply use more government means to try to pry deeper into the machinations of an overpowered office in the name of “accountability.” And nevertheless, she persists in placing restriction on political free speech for those who seek the same offices with her attacks on Citizens United.
She is right in one respect that we do need a more accountable government, but the question is from where and whom that accountability comes.
The design of our federal order was meant to confront Trumps, Obamas, and all sorts of other characters. Governing power was never meant to be concentrated in the executive to begin with, but rather spread across several different centers. Yet, we have gotten away from this point, largely in part to centralizing progressivist policies from the Left and repeated capitulation from the Right.
We already have the answer to the problems of concentrated power and influence in the D.C. swamp; conservatives have been fighting that fight for a long time. And it’s nice to see that progressives like Warren are starting to wake up to this reality now that a leftist “lightworker” is no longer in the Oval Office and has been replaced with the likes of Donald Trump.
However, realizing a proper solution to the issue at hand is going to require more than a fake Native American’s pre-campaign rhetoric to do anything about it. Should Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s concerns about concentrated power ever escape the temporal fixation on Donald Trump’s foibles and rise to the level of real cooperation on dismantling D.C.’s power structures en masse, there might be hope for this republic yet.