Can the Congress Investigate the Clinton Administration Fairly?
May 19, 1998
in this forum:
Has politics tainted the investigation process? Is this anything new? Is there any way to conduct an investigation in a truly non-partisan way? Could the investigation backfire on the republicans next election? With the Republicans having such a slim House majority, how can there be a house committee with a two-thirds Republican majority for the Speaker to move the immunity question to? Has there been a decline in the quality of reporting on political scandal? Aaron Gaudio of Corvallis, OR asks:Aaron Gaudio of Corvallis, OR asks: George Washing stated in his Farewell Address:
"However combinations or associations ... may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterward the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
Was Washington right? Are the problems we see in our government, between the Republicans and Democrats, anything new? Or are they indicative of the instability of a system designed to promote political faction?
William Connelly, Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University, responds:
In "Democracy in America" Alexis de Tocqueville noted that "parties are an evil inherent in free governments." Similarly, James Madison observed that "liberty is to faction as air is to fire." Madison's famous FEDERALIST # 10 and # 51 concentrate on curing the "mischiefs of faction," but not at the cost of eliminating liberty. Since he did not expect that "enlightened statesmen" would also be at the helm, Madison created a constitutional system which "involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government." Thus our separation of powers system intentionally pits ambition against ambition, faction against faction, party against party. What is the alternative to partisan politics and factional infighting -- philosopher kings?
Our political system is certainly not unstable -- to the contrary -- we will survive even the petty partisanship we now see in the Government Reform Commitee. One might wish, however, that partisans would confront one another over differences on policy and principle, rather than personality differences and personal ethics.