What kind of rules can rule rulers?

March 8, 2021

Are there no rules that can rule rulers (politicians)?

The United States of America was not the first democracy. Neither did it have the first representative legislature or the first republic with checks-and-balances.

  • Ancient Athens had the first democracy.
  • Our British cousins established the first representative legislature.
  • Ancient Rome was the first republic, and we borrowed our system of checks-and-balances directly from them.

Given these facts, what, if anything, was new about the United States?

Americans created the first rules to directly limit government power

In Athenian democracy, the majority could impose anything it wanted on the dissenting minority. The British parliament could do the same. In Rome, the elaborate system of checks-and-balances somewhat thwarted tyrannical impositions, but Rome eventually became a dictatorship anyway.

Only the United States of America attempted to actually outlaw tyranny through a comprehensive set of “thou shalt not” rules.

These rules that can rule rulers are encoded in our Bill of Rights.

Pessimists claim the Bill of Rights hasn’t worked, and they can point to a mountain of evidence to justify their assertion. Even we have argued that the Bill of Rights is flawed because it has no enforcement mechanism. But the fact of the matter is…

The rules limiting U.S. government power have worked some of the time

The Constitution does include some rules that can rule rulers if they’re used…

  • Voters can elect representatives who will vote against proposals that transgress rights.
  • Citizens can lobby these representatives to obey the law.
  • Voters can elect presidents that veto or refuse to enforce oppressive legislation.
  • The Courts can overturn enactments that violate the Bill of Rights

Pessimists will claim that, actually, none of these enforcement systems work. But they overstate their case. The picture looks different if we consider ALL the facts. For instance…

Our article “How did bad politicians do so many good things?” showed that elected legislators are taking positive actions on many fronts.

You’ve helped us, at Agenda Setters by Downsize DC, to create our own examples, such as…

  • Persuading legislators to introduce and sponsor good legislation.
  • Filing landmark legal briefs in Supreme Court decisions, like the Citizens United and Jones cases.

So it is possible to enforce the Bill of Rights, if we do the right things in the right way. But…

Which enforcement mechanisms should we prioritize?

Electoral victories require millions of supporters and billions of dollars.

Court cases have been more effective. For all its flaws, the judicial system has done more to enforce the Bill of Rights than any other branch of governance. We will continue to file legal briefs to pursue this strategy. But…

Citizen lobbying has the most untapped potential. It can achieve the most with the least effort and cost. Plus…

We have current evidence that the right rules can rule rulers.

We have an example of how rules can rule rulers. The Democrats desperately want to increase the minimum wage to $15, but two procedural rules have prevented this.

The Senate filibuster rule requires 60 votes to close debate. The Democrats can’t gain enough Republican support to reach the 60 votes, so they want to pass their minimum wage using another rule called budget reconciliation. This rule only requires a simple majority. But the minimum wage is a law, not a budget resolution, so the Republicans asked the Senate parliamentarian to declare the maneuver out of order.

Pessimists predicted the parliamentarian would submit to the Democrats. But the parliamentarian ruled against the Democrats. Please notice…

Two rules, the filibuster rule and the budget reconciliation rule, combined to prevent an unconstitutional attempt to rig labor prices. But that only begins to show the potential for rules that can rule rulers. Much more is possible…

Our proposed rules would be real game-changers!

New Agenda Setters may not realize that…

  • Our One Subject at a Time Act would prevent congressional leaders from clustering unpopular measures with unrelated but sure-to-pass proposals. This means that many violations of the Bill of Rights could no longer be passed.
  • Our Read the Bills Act would force members of Congress to read every word of every bill they want to pass. This would make Congress slow down and deliberate. It would also create an incentive for shorter legislation. And it would give citizens more time to lobby for or against legislation.
  • Our Write the Laws Act would require Congress to vote on every new regulation. This would restore the checks-and-balances between the legislative and executive branches. Unelected Executive Branch bureaucrats could no longer impose rules on the American people without Congress first reading and approving them.

These rules that can rule rulers can be enacted through citizen lobbying.

They are also actual laws, not mere rules that Congress can waive. These three laws will improve the incentives for Congress to obey the Bill of Rights.

They also include wording that allows the courts to enforce their provisions. But it gets better, because…

We also have the right strategy to pass our rules/laws.

If you’re new to Agenda Setters then you need to acquaint yourself with The 300 and Option Activism. Please do that now at the action page for our primary legislative proposal…

Support the One Subject at a Time Act

We also think our approach needs and deserves funding. Please contribute or start a monthly pledge.

Perry Willis
Agenda Setters by Downsize DC

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