"Democracy is a failure", Italian dictator Benito "Il Duce" Mussolini once boasted, all while bragging about the ruthless efficiency of his fascist government, which finally got the trains in his native Italy to move on time. In a similar vein, many partisans on the left and the right are sounding off against the gridlock which is seizing up any meaningful progress in the United States Federal Government.
What is setting off these arguments denouncing "Dysfunctional Democracy"? Stalled legislation undermined by minority interests in Congress , party-line votes on stimulus dollars and health care mandates, and protracted debates over raising the debt ceiling which have undermined the credit rating of this country--all are driving driven interests to demand a more dynamic form of government.
After the extensive haranguing which dominated Washington this past year over budget cuts, deficits, and the national debt, there is little surprise to see a chorus of citizen-complainers denouncing the inherent dysfunction of the American government.
In terms of promoting efficiency, no system of government could be worse than the American Republic. Yet in terms of protecting the rights of the few against the many, safeguarding the nation against attack, and defending the causes of freedom for all, there is no better system designed then or now.
Yet in light of other forms of government, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was right on he wryly opined: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. I certainly does not hurt to point out, either, that the United States Constitution is the longest-lived document of its kind in human history.
Before supporting its promise and in light of modern complaints against its ineffective nature, critics should reconsider their complaints in light of more efficient, though less ideal, forms of governance:
Monarchy, or rule by one, inevitably leads to rule for one: the ruler himself. Just review the kingdoms ("L'état, c'est moi!"-- French King Louis XIV) where the will of king and queen swept away the rights and needs of the rest. Modern-day dictatorships like the fascist Italian and German governments instigated world wars and orchestrated the en masse arrest, deportation, and execution of many peoples, including the Jews. These notorious examples prove that men are incapable of restraining themselves to rule in the best interests of those whom they claim to serve.
Some have devised government whose rule is dispersed among a few leaders. Aristocracy, or oligarchy, has created more of the same dreaded and dreary government much maligned among monarchies and autocrats. For example, the oligarchies of ancient Greece despised the many, and the corrupt Directory of post-revolutionary France eventually gave way to the far more tyrannical rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. Much like the monomaniacal mandates of monarchies and military rule, the few end up ruling on behalf of the few and dispense with the needs of the many.
The third alternative, democracy accords leadership to many over the many, yet this is also a tricky affair. Although more in line with promoting the greater good, majority rule may trump minority rights and impose another limited rule of the few over the many. Even during the Golden Age of the ancient city state of Athens, only native sons of wealth and privilege were allowed to vote. Let us not forget that it was this elite political class that condemned the free-thinking Socrates to death, a devastating attack on minority rights which undermines any promotion of direct democracy, demonstrating how quickly democracy devolves into the crass tyranny of the greater "we" against the fewer "they".
To resolve these endemic failures which the previous forms of government failed to remedy, the Framers of the United States Constitution combined elements of these previous forms of government--monarchical, aristocratic, and populist--into feuding branches, all elected directly or indirectly by the people.
Within Congress, the branch of government responsible for crafting legislation, the Framers designed the House of Representatives to represent the interests of the people. To represent the more elite interests of the several states, the Constitution instituted the Senate, the chamber of Congress whose members serve longer terms and decide issue which bear on the entire country. Serving in a more monarchical role, the President authorizes (or blocks) legislation from Congress, and enforces those laws which he ultimately endorses. Each branch imposed checks and balances on the others to ensure that no one branch of government, and no one class of society, gained power at the expense of the others.
What was the result from this federal framework for government? A system that was essentially functional, not "dysfunctional". Members of Congress are forced to negotiate at length with their counterparts in two different houses, then seek the approval of the presidency, who may veto the proposed law. A distinct judiciary, designed to be weak and reactionary, settles federal disputes-- though was never originally intended to rule on the constitutionality of federal or state legislation.
Acknowledging the humble reality that men are not angels, and therefore by nature selfish and ambitious to a fault, the Framers designed a government which channels man's selfish ambition against itself, ultimately engineering outcomes that will minimize detriment to the federal government, the states, and the people, and preserve the rights of all. A genius of political design, the United States Constitution permits the competing interests of the people, the states, and elites to strive for supremacy without succeeding exclusively. Their ongoing rivalry ultimately tames them into minimally--not dysfunctionally--functioning in the best interests of those whom they are elected to govern.
It is this drawn-out process encoded in the Constitution which has upset many in today's rancorous political discourse across the country. Yet those who prize safeguarding the Federal Government's entitlement programs, for example, must acknowledge that without this protracted system of checks and balances, their precious programs would have been swept away in a trice. Those demanding limited government at all costs must respect the widespread interests throughout the nation who have depended on government for so long, or at least those who in principle still believe that government should function along more than strictly libertarian lines.
Despite being a form of government slow to enact change, drawing out necessary arguments, and frustrating the hopes of beleaguered interests across the nation, the United States Federal Government outlined in the Constitution ensures that different parties will achieve some success without diminishing the rights of others or destroying the core functions of the country.