- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

IN SEARCH OF SELF-GOVERNANCE

By Scott W. Rasmussen

CreateSpace, $14,

76 pages

Reviewed by Wes Vernon

”Never pass major legislation that affects most Americans without real bipartisan support. [Otherwise] It opens the door to all kinds of political trouble.”

Who do you think said that? Some Republican congressman anticipating the demise of our republic because the Democrats rammed through the 2,700-page health care bill that most lawmakers had never read? Actually, no. The words were uttered by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat.

Moynihan’s pre-Obamacare quote is cited in a thin but substantive volume penned by Scott W. Rasmussen, one of America’s leading professional pollsters, whose track record for accuracy is one of the best in the business. Ironic it is that his book “In Search of Self-Governance” was published just before Obamacare passed Congress. The book does not specifically address the then-pending health care legislation, but one suspects the pollster had it in mind when he was writing.

Our system provides that “the government does not run the country,” Mr. Rasmussen writes. The people do. Some opponents of the new law worry that that truism ultimately will be reversed, not just because of the health care “tipping point,” but also considering bank and car-company takeovers, “cash for clunkers,” more than 30 White House “czars,” arguably unconstitutional executive orders and far-reaching government mandates in the absence of congressional action.

During the 2008 campaign, even an adoring media could not suppress Mr. Obama’s lament that the Constitution contained too many “negative” rights, such as “Congress shall make no law” abridging freedom of speech, and not enough mandates as to what the government “shall” do for (to?) the people (such as forcing them to buy insurance whether they wanted it or not?). Now, 15 months into his term, current polls, including Mr. Rasmussen’s, reflect a growing public restlessness.

Mr. Rasmussen reminds us that the system provides checks and balances and “protection against granting excessive power to the government without broad societal support.” That safety valve was torn asunder when, with the president’s backing, the Senate evaded the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster against the monumentally controversial health bill; astonishing considering that Mr. Obama supposedly has lectured on constitutional law.

“In Search of Self-Governance” has this retort to politicians who grumble about how hard it is to change the Madisonian system: “That’s okay, because our government wasn’t designed to serve the needs of those in power. It was designed to support a self-governing society. In fact, the headaches for politicians are better than okay because they’re precisely what [James] Madison and his peers had in mind.”

Or to put it another way: Politicians “want meaningful citizen involvement about as much as mischievous teen-agers want chaperones at a high-school dance.” In fact, it’s worse than that, the pollster contends. “Imagine what it would be like if the teens decided what kind of behavior was acceptable at the dance and placed limits on what the chaperones could do about it. That’s how it works in Washington today.”

While avoiding partisanship, Mr. Rasmussen exhibits a clear understanding of why our forefathers fought for the liberties we have enjoyed for more than 200 years and, more to the point, that those very freedoms are under assault. However, he artfully avoids venturing too far into the politically radioactive partisan weeds lest his reputation as an objective pollster be compromised.

The third-party route is futile, the underlying reason being that the two major parties have rigged the system, in state after state, so as to lead third-party attempts down a flash-in-the-pan blind alley to ultimate oblivion. Fixing that, if possible, will be a long-term project.

The author sees a battle between “Americans who want to govern themselves and the politicians who want to rule over them.” That divide, he warns, may be as big as the gap between the Colonies and England in the 18th century. That holds whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge, he says. His aversion to partisanship precludes his mentioning that in their current minority status, the Republicans have offered heroic pushback.

Obviously, we must understand the full dimensions of the problem. And here the book draws an outline that is accurate but incomplete.

Mr. Rasmussen alludes to an “unholy alliance” of big government and big business arrayed against the rest of us. “They write the rules. We pay the bills,” he contends. Some big businesses quietly encourage tougher government regulations, knowing that while they can afford to absorb the expense [but] their small business competitors cannot. Some larger elements of the health care industry went along with the White House push for Obamacare, hoping to reap rewards; lending credence to Lenin’s prediction that when it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will bid against each other to provide the rope.

Some would add “big labor” or “big trial lawyers” as parts of the problem, though one can cite them as inevitable reactions to the “unholy alliance.” The unmentioned “big” is the ongoing effort to undermine our entrepreneurial culture and Judeo-Christian heritage. Where are big Hollywood, big academia, big establishment news media, big foundations and the likes of George Soros?

The Rasmussen recipe for recovery may very well require “a temporary surge of participation from those who have a life outside of politics of government, “a temporary diversion “from other vitally important responsibilities of self-governance to fix a broken political system.” If that sounds familiar, it should. He’s describing the Tea Party movement without naming it.

The polling icon’s most novel idea is to let members of Congress vote from their home districts as well as from the Capitol. “You can almost picture events around the country as [lawmakers] watch major debates on the big screen with the people they are supposed to represent.” Then they could vote with the public watching “and the party leaders unable to corner them.” Intriguing, even if vulnerable to institutional barriers.

This book is short. In terms of material to chew on, the right metaphor would be that of an elephant-sized pork chop.

Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer and veteran broadcast journalist.

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