US Government and Politics Report (Assessment)

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The Presidency

President barrack Obama is truly a charismatic leader. He has proved his gift in getting people who disagree with him to combine forces and achieve goals far more important than themselves or their differences. A good example of this was the passing of the healthcare reform policy. President Obama successfully got congress to pass a bill that Americans has been aspiring to have for over four decades now. The healthcare reform is a public policy that will ensure that almost all Americans have access to medical care when they need it. The current healthcare system is very oppressive and inhumane.

Stories keep appearing on local dailies about how another American was denied a fundamental right to medical treatment because of lack of financial resources. In all the western democracies that have adopted a national healthcare plan, the change began with such stories. In Britain, it was Bernard Shaw who while visiting a local hospital overheard an incredulous exchange between a physician and his assistant. The assistant announced that a certain old man was in need of the physician’s attention.

The doctor responded by asking his assistant if the man was ‘worth it’ (Almond, & Verba 2010, p. 34). George Bernard Shaw wrote ‘Doctor’s Dilemma’ out of this and that heralded change for Britain, which adopted the national health insurance policy in 1945. Canada and Australia followed suit soon afterwards, (1966 and 1974); it is about time America joined in. In 2007, polls indicated that 57 million Americans experienced challenges in paying for medical bills. This was 14 million more than the number in 2003.

The major problem with Americans is that they are scared of change. Several authors named this irrational fear, the Bolshevik fantasy (Kernell 2008, p. 45). Americans prefer to suffer in the familiar zone they have been in for decades rather than wonder into strange and unchartered paths where they risked government dominion. It came as a surprise, therefore, when the bill passed in congress despite all the prophets of doom who had already criticized Obama’s strategy and leadership in general.

However, it is no surprise that opposition for the bill is still rampant. Recently, President Obama requested that the Supreme Court give its judgment on the constitutionality of this bill. Lower court jurists exercised judicial restraint in holding that the bill does not contravene the commerce clause in requiring mandatory compliance from all Americans in purchasing health insurance (Hodder-Williams 1992, p. 19).

This is the argument that most of Obama’s opponents are raising. The courts continue to find against them. Justice Laurence Silber man stated, “The right to be free from federal regulation is not absolute, and yields to the imperative that congress is free to forge national solutions to national problems” (Walcott, & Hult 2007, p. 6). Obama’s bill has its weaknesses, however, it is in line with the original intent of the commerce clause, and that is why judges find for it.

However, until the Supreme Court passes judgment on the constitutionality of this bill, success is not complete. Although Obama has brought the reform further than any president before him ever did, the race is still on. Meanwhile, he is continuing to use a mixture of the insider, executive, and going-public strategies. For instance, he attends so many fundraiser events where he collects money as well influences those in attendance on the merits of the healthcare reform.

At film producer and actor Will Smith, and his wife, Jada Pinkett’s home, where all in attendance paid $35,800 for a ticket, he spoke of the 30 million Americans who would now have access to medical insurance. In total, Obama has accumulated over $88 million in similar fundraisers.

In addition to this strategy, Obama also seeks the support of congress on the matter, although this has been minimal. Since the president already had part of the support of the democrats, he needed to get republicans to vote for the bill as well. It is difficult to convince an opponent to assist one in defeating him / her, and so although this bill got the backing of at least three influential republicans, Obama used to electorate to secure the rest of the votes. He engaged the public and implored them to demand that their representatives veto this bill because it was good for all Americans, especially those who felt the strain of paying exorbitant rates for medical care.

He also assured them that the passage of this bill meant more jobs for America’s 9% unemployed. This is because the bill provided for the use of federal taxes to provide opportunities for enterprising Americans with great ideas for revolutionizing health care. Currently, the government issued out $1 billion in addition to the $10 billion already in circulation, from which these entrepreneurs can win grants ranging from $1 to $30 million for potent ideas.

Presently, the matter is awaiting the Supreme Court’s judgment and most Americans are positive that the court will rule in favor of the bill despite allegations that its provisions are unconstitutional. The basis of this optimism is the principle of judicial restraint coupled with original intent. Simply put, judicial restraint refers to the exercise of judicial discretion in permitting the continuance of an action that may seem ‘unethical’ or incorrect by some set standards, yet because it is for the greater good, the law turns away and lets it continue.

Original intent is almost similar but differs slightly because it rationalizes the allegedly unethical or incorrect act. Original intent proposes that the makers of that law or enactment would have allowed this specific act because it fall within the scope of what they intended the law to achieve in general, only that at the time; they did not envisage the occurrence of this present scenario (Shapiro 2003, p. 156).

With these two arguments, the national healthcare insurance bill will see the light of day and Obama’s success will shine. Requesting that the Supreme Court give its decision is an exercise of the executive strategy. Meanwhile, the republicans have also passed some good bills but the president and the democrat-government has stayed their execution, this is an executive strategy.

The congress

Political scientists have come up with many theories to explain the behavior of congressional representatives most of them scathing and almost all of them agreeing that all congressional representatives behave the way they do to insure their re-election during the next term. For this reason, they maintain contact with their electorate to inform them on their progress in Washington DC and to consult with them before and after voting in the house on certain critical matters.

Consequently, this communication sometimes becomes selective as legislators use the resources availed to them by their offices to inform their constituents on how they are progressing in advancing their concerns and priorities. Sometimes, it becomes a ruse for one to divert the constituents’ attention from the duties that the constituents have neglected as representatives (Fiorina 2008, p. 77).

This is why in analyzing a congressional representative’s genuine accomplishments; the content of their communication is very substantial evidence. Fenno observed, “Empirical theories of representation will always be incomplete without theories that explain explaining” (1978, 162) Consequently, the ‘expressed agenda’ of a congressional representative or simply, the common message in most communications with his / her constituents will also reflect in the accomplishments they list while campaigning for re-election.

It comes as no surprise therefore that the representative for Idaho, Mike Crapo, communicates to the press at least a dozen times a week. On that one Tuesday when journalist recorded all his day’s activities, he spoke to more than six different radio stations among them the Idaho Falls and Boise stations and the one in Coeur d’Alene. It the first two radio calls, he discussed the President’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget, which congress had in its possession for several weeks. One has to wonder why this was the subject of discussion a few weeks later if these call are over a dozen each week.

What then did they discuss immediately after the release of the budget? Representative Crapo indicated that they inform constituents on what is going on in congress. Polls indicate that in 2007, the average senate office had four and a half press releases. This number has since escalated probably due to the revolutionized technology.

The next appointment on Mike Crapo’s day was with the National Association of Mortgage Bankers where he was giving a 15-minute speech at their annual Legislative and Regulatory Conference. He indicates that this meeting was an important appointment because of the role he played in the Senate Finance and Senate Banking committees. The meeting dealt with housing and finance issues.

Later during the day, he attended the weekly Republican Policy Committee Luncheon. He indicates that these luncheons are important because they give the representatives time to meet and interact with other representatives from other states and together discuss matters beneficial to the nation. Several political scientists agree that it is indeed a daunting task for congress to work together; congressional representatives often find themselves split between the interests of their constituents and those of the nation.

Balancing these two can be very challenging and it often is. Sometimes, the congressional representative also has his own conscience, beliefs and principles to battle. As a result, there are two types of representatives, trustees and delegates. Delegates vote according to what their constituents want while trustees vote on what is right and best for their constituents and the nation in general. Political Scientist David Mayhew on this delicate balance between state and national interest argues that there exists a “universal coalition” (Oleszek 2009, p. 65).

He is one of those who lack any faith in these representatives’ leadership capabilities. He views them as “single minded seekers of reelection who take home ‘bacon’ every once in a while and then during re-election go back and take credit for it” (Fiorina 2008, p. 145). This bacon can take the form of educational reforms, bridges and law enforcement grants among other things.

Mayhew goes as far as alleging that sometimes these congressional representatives go as far as creating “complex bureaucracies in Washington DC” (Oleszek 2009, p. 78) or simply put, they generate problems for their constituents. When these constituents come crying for help, they solve the problems and later take credit for their heroic acts and seek re-election based on these. However, this harsh description is not true for all congressional representatives as some of them are genuinely interested in good leadership.

Mike Crapo spends a substantial part of his afternoon meeting with various special interest groups and other individual businesspersons. He states that since these are so many, he only allocates 15 minutes to each person. Political science theories claim that major campaign contributors buy access to representatives in congress. During Crapo’s busy day, some people manage to have him longer than others do, for instance, Idaho Mortgage Banker Representatives had a meeting from 11.45 am to 12-30pm, and during the hearing, he takes off to chat with Mike Hofflund, the Executive Director of Idaho Shakespeare Film Festival.

According to Langbein, one-hour access to a congressional representative costs contributors at least $72,300. It is also interesting to note that representatives only go to vote, and that they do not stay in for debates culminating to the votes.

Even during the committee hearing, Crapo was not an avid participant. Instead, he left it to one of his competent staff members, who had arrived early and was in tune with the ongoing discussions, to continue while he chatted with Mr. Hofflund. Assuming that this is what all the other congressional representatives do, one wonders if these committee meetings and the resolutions made are simply the result of deliberations between ‘competent’ staff members.

Political scientist Richard Fenno attempts to answer the question of, “who is it that congressional representatives are actually representing” (Oleszek 2009, p. 78) especially because in the same district, there are those that voted against them. He uses an illustration of four concentric circles with the outermost circle representing the geographical demarcations district meaning all the residents (Almond, & Verba 2010, p. 56).

The next circle represents the ‘reflection’ or those within the district that voted for the representative. Next is the ‘primary’, which represents those in the party who voted for that person, and finally, the innermost circle is ‘personal’ representing those people who know and associate with the representative, thereby affecting his experiences and decisions. In truth, he represents these people.

Supreme Court

Brown v Board of Education 347 U.S. 483 (1954) 347 U.S. 483 is a very important case in the United States civil rights history. This decision defied the doctrine of stare decisis, which binds all U.S courts. This doctrine, also known as the doctrine of precedent requires that jurists decide cases in a similar pattern as previous similar cases to foster predictability, which inspires faith in the judicial system. This is why this case is so significant. It defied this principle and many cannot make peace with this.

Glanville Williams, on stare decisis stated, “What the doctrine of precedent declares is that cases must be decided the same way when the material facts are the same. Obviously, it does not require that all facts should be the same. We know that in the flux of life, all the facts of a case will never recur, but the legally material facts may recur and it is with these that the law is concerned” (Almond 2010, p.24). With this in mind, it is obvious that the decision in Brown v Board of Education (1954) did not follow this doctrine.

The precedent for the material facts in Brown v Board of Education was in Plessy v Ferguson and several other previous cases such as Sweatt v Painter and McLaurin v Oklahoma among others. However, Justice Warren dismissed the decisions in all these cases, in fact, he criticised the decision of a Kansas court, which found that racial segregation in public schools was detrimental to the mental, emotional and psychological development of colored children but went on to rule in favour of the segregation.

It is important to note that under the doctrine of precedent, courts are bound by previous decision made either by themselves, or by higher courts. Consequently, only those decisions made by the Supreme Court will be binding to it. The facts in the Brown case were that the appellants had all been denied access to white-only schools because of the “split but equivalent” doctrine, which allowed for segregation if all other physical amenities were of an equal standard. Therefore, if a Negro school had all the social amenities including resources such as textbooks and teachers equal to a white school, it was legal to require only black children to attend it.

In the Brown case, the Supreme Court struck out this doctrine and ruled that the act of segregation was discriminative and so it was against the provisions of the fourteenth amendment. The fourteenth amendment guarantees equal protection of the law and provides for due process. In passing this judgment, the jurists used judicial discretion to repeal a certain interpretation of the law.

The doctrine behind this decision is ‘original intent.’ The jurists reached their decision by inferring what the original enactors of the fourteenth amendment had in mind, as well as what this meant as applied to the case of Plessy v Ferguson. Consequently, the judge elaborated on the history of the fourteenth amendment including passages about the debate between opponents and proponents as well as congress’ contribution and determined that all these sources were inconclusive.

Next, Chief Justice Warren examines the Plessy case and the resultant doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ to infer the intention of its creators (Shapiro 2003, p.109). He begins by asserting that the Plessy case concerned transportation, a far less serious field than education, which the Brown case deals with. Secondly, in all the subsequent cases that came before the court concerning discrimination within schools, the court applied the ‘separate but equal’ test and sufficiently resolved the matter or simply ignored it, as in Sweatt v painter where it reserved its decision as to whether Plessy v Ferguson applied in public education.

The third factor in this decision was the fact that during the creation of the law on segregation, African Americans were practically illiterate. They did not attend any schools, leave alone separate ones. However, at the time of this decision, many African Americans had an education. Several had excelled so far as to exceed their white counterparts and the segregation in public schools was detrimental to the growth and development of African American children. Segregation made them feel inferior and this affected negatively their performance in school and in the society in general.

Chief Justice Warren quoted research on psychology that supported this claim especially for grade and high school children. He also stated that during the formulation of these oppressive laws, there lacked adequate technology, information, and experience to influence the formulators. However, the Supreme Court’s duty is to correct such errors. Judges have the capacity to interpret enactments, and where enactors made a certain fundamental omission or mistake the drafting of that law, judges correct them. This was one such instance.

The question before the court was whether segregation in public education deprived participants of equal protection of law and the court found that it did. This drastic change would inevitably destabilize the social pattern. Therefore, the judge ruled that the decision would take effect after one year. This was so that society would adjust and brace itself for change, and then ease into it slowly rather than abruptly disrupting the ‘tranquillity’ as this would be counterproductive. This decision goes against most political activists’ ideas of how the Supreme Court passes judgment.

The doctrine of stare decisis is not so popular and political scientists often criticize the justice behind ‘predetermined fate’. They would prefer judges to handle each case a new. However, such a preference is unrealistic as it would result in a backlog of cases and clog the judicial system, curtailing justice altogether. However, others still criticize this formula of achieving justice.

This batch believes that judges should not infer from the law, they should simply interpret it as it stands. They frown at judicial activists and feel threatened that someday judges may overturn the entire law. However, judicial activists assert the need to read into the original intent because (1) social change since enactment dictate it and (2) the enactment as it is does not address all the relevant moral questions (Hodder-Williams 1992, p. 67). It is, therefore, necessary to view it as an expression of values, instead of a set of rules so that it is flexible and can have content in each different circumstance or case.

References

Almond, G., & Verba, S., 2010. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Washington, DC: Oxford University Press.

Fiorina, M., 2008. Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment. Oklahoma: Springler.

Hodder-Williams, R., 1992. Six notions of Political and the US Supreme Court. BJPS, 1(2), pp. 1-20.

Kernell, S., 2008. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. Chicago: Springler.

Oleszek, W., 2009. Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process. New Jersey: Sweet and Maxwell.

Shapiro, M., 2003. The Supreme Court and Public Policy. Chicago: Oxford University Press.

Walcott, E., & Hult, K., 2007. Governing the White House. Kansas: Best Books Publishers.

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