It is no secret that Americans love their country, but hate their government. Deploring our corrupt political system, but not knowing what to do about it, citizens are increasingly willing to enact extraordinary laws to control the actions of self-serving politicians. However, new laws won't control politicians any better than the old ones, for politicians have dominion over the law, and they can readily evade its objectives. The Constitution, for example, prescribes impeachment for bribery. Does anyone recall a lawmaker being impeached for taking money for services rendered? That's why periodically modifying our laws may make us feel better temporarily. But such exercises are merely cosmetic--like painting a house that is crumbling from dry rot.The Need for the Code
To create a government we can admire, and to elect leaders we can respect, we must launch a revolution. Not a new revolution, though: We need only to realize the goals of the original American Revolution. This is the aim of the proposed Uniform Code of Political Justice.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson promised Americans a new kind of democracy, a government that derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed." However, the framers of the Constitution broke this promise. Distrusting the "turbulent and changing" people, who "seldom judge or determine right," Alexander Hamilton and other Federalist patricians empowered the ruling elite to consent to their own powers. Their only concession to democracy was allowing us to vote for our rulers. They pointedly did not allow us to vote to our government's powers, just or unjust.
We are told that voting empowers us to "throw the rascals out," yet voting is no more than a rascal rotation plan: When we throw out one rascal, and we throw in another. And though individual rascals come and go, nothing changes. The corrupt powers of our political system remain, undisturbed by elections.
The Constitution empowers the ruling class to create its own powers, and to regulate and discipline its own members. Because this is the power that corrupts, today's corruption should surprise no one. Nor should it surprise anyone that corruption will continue until we, the people, impose direct, meaningful accountability on members of our ruling class.Objectives of the Code
The Constitution generously invites corruption the way it is written, yet by abusing their power, politicians have undermined its intent even further. For example, to elude the Constitutional imperative to impeach officials for bribery, politicians have simply defined political bribery out of existence: When they take money from lobbyists in return for favors, they call it "constituent service."
Also, by creeping through a major loophole, politicians have defied the intent of the Constitutions's explicit prohibition against granting titles of nobility: Because our supreme law tacitly permits the evolution of a nobility without titles, generations of self-serving politicians have granted themselves the privileges of an untitled aristocracy: a feudal democracy.
Unlike feudal aristocracies, which maintain themselves through ancestral bloodlines, the feudal democracy perpetuates itself through the new royal houses--the political parties. Rather than owning property to allocate, these ruling families own the roads to power: cash, credit, favors, threats, paybacks, publicity, patronage, and the free labor of citizen-serfs. By granting access to these, they recruit and enlist vassals who swear fealty to them. The political royal houses thereby produce, groom, nurture, and anoint the nation's rulers. Naturally, this system produces party toadies, not public servants.
The parties actively discourage their lackeys from taking any actions in the nation's interest that might mean "political suicide." And politicians who wish for secure careers don't defy their party, merely to serve the nation's interests. When considering public policies, party vassals ask not what they can do for their country, but "What's in it for me?" That's why party-service is self-service masquerading as public-service.
The parties do not operate under the authority of the Constitution; they write their own rules. The royal houses have used these rules to give the feudal democracy a life of its own, maintaining absolute power: The parties, not the people, dictate who holds public office. Yet, they hide their aristocratic pretensions under the costume of Constitutional democracy.
In their most egregious mockery of the Constitution, politicians have undermined the only specific anti-corruption measure provided by our founders: balancing power among the three branches of government. Politicians have replaced these boundaries with the inviolate "aisle" that separates the two parties. They have even debased the law by selecting Supreme Court justices for their partisan or ideological biases. As a result, the fictitious Constitutional checks and balances have been replaced by partisan squabbling.
The parties are united in denying that they have corrupted Constitutional principles. They do this by hiding their machinations behind the language of political ideology. Yet, the ideological positions employed by the parties are themselves disguised versions of two ancient extremes of tyranny: rule by the refined few, or rule by the coarse many.
To accommodate these extremes, Aristotle recommended a "mixed government." Of course, in the centuries since Aristotle, tyranny, whether mixed or pure, has consistently failed to prove itself an acceptable form of government in the real world. That's because, to remain stable, dynamic systems must be regulated by effective feedback. And tyrants ignore feedback.
Without adequate feedback and control, and with the two forms of tyranny as the only available positions, our government continues to oscillate wildly from pole to pole, alternately empowering one set of despots while embittering the other.
Because they were ignorant of the principles of feedback and control in living systems, the authors of the Constitution tried to create a mixed government of both extremes. But ignorance is no excuse for modern politicians. Scientific knowledge of systems has made great strides in the past two centuries.
Politicians defend their unrealistic ideologies, not because they have proven useful to the nation, but because their consequences can't be tested; therefore, they can't be proven unworkable. As a result, these empty ideologies can be exploited forever as rallying cries. Though this allows partisans to justify their battles as honest differences between contrasting ideologies, their hoax is exposed by a single fact: Each party harbors both extreme ideologies. That's because the ideologies adopted within the parties are determined, not by national needs, but by the prevailing desires of provincial factions.
The ideological divisions and internecine quarrels within each party are now threatening to weaken the grip of the ruling families. Indeed, few Americans still vote straight party tickets. In adapting to these challenges, however, the parties debase their ideological foundations even more, actively soliciting ideological opposites into their "big tents." Because the conflicts among these factions are irreconcilable, many pundits predict the collapse of the party system. However, they underestimate party leaders's willingness to trade their ideals for power. Ultimately, then, the dust clouds blown up by ideological shouting matches conceal the real reason for partisan contests: to divide the wealth and power of the nation among the winners.
In short, our political system has failed because it ignores the realities of human mentality. Two centuries ago, our founders used self-reference to invoke optimistic, but imaginary, ideals of leadership: altruism, responsibility, statesmanship, noblesse oblige, and dedication to duty. Today, we recognize these ideals as totally unrealistic--especially among those who crave power. We also know that living systems require constant, effective feedback to regulate their control mechanisms. That's why, whether it trickles from the top, or erupts from the bottom, unregulated power, like the growth of cancer, is ultimately fatal to its host. Lacking any effective means for providing feedback to government, our nation is sick, having never developed the mechanisms necessary for maintaining its health in a constantly changing world. The Uniform Code of Political Justice would provide this feedback through an effective means for the governed to consent to the just powers of government.
The proposed Code would follow the precedent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs the conduct of public servants in the armed forces. This Code strips citizen-soldiers of their Constitutional rights and freedoms, for it is necessary to the nation to assure that individuals don't put their personal ambitions above the interests of the nation. This justification is even more important in political public service: The nation must prevent public officials from corrupting public service into self-service.
To foster honorable governmental service exclusively in the interest of the nation, the proposed Code would establish and enforce uniform standards of service for public officials, whether elected and appointed, in the three branches of government. Through the proposed Code, we, the people, would achieve four objectives:
Defining Public ServiceFirst, we would specify that we employ government officials to conduct the necessary operations of the nation. We do not crown politicians, nor do we deify them. We hire them. As it is now, upon election or appointment to high public office, once ordinary mortals are transformed into demigods, immune from meaningful accountability to anyone but themselves. Secure in their lofty domains, high above the humble stations of their former peers, they are wholly exempt from the laws that govern ordinary men and women. Indeed, as keepers of the law, they are above the law, masters of it. Thus, perversely, public servants, not the people, are the ultimate sovereigns of our feudal democracy.
Specifying Standards of ServiceSecond, we would specify the conditions of employment for public officials. Because they hold power over the law--the power that corrupts--public servants would be held to standards that are higher than the law: ethical standards. Because ethics is the root of good law, we would require ethical thinking and behavior of the public servants who write, administer, and interpret the law. In other words, we would require public servants to avoid ethical wrongdoing, even if their actions are legal. Indeed, governmental officials would retain their dominion over the law, but no one can govern ethics.
To prevent contamination by idiosyncratic ideas concerning right and wrong, the ethical standards applied by the proposed Code are based on the intent of the Constitution. Specifically, the meaning of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" would be interpreted broadly, and conspiring to upset the balance of powers among the three branches would be regarded as serious ethical misconduct.
More generally, the standards would be based on the original justifications for our government, as they are specified in the Preamble to the Constitution: "To form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
Today, we aren't even close to meeting these goals: Special interests divide us, creating a less perfect union; our legal system can't insure domestic tranquility; our military bureaucracy provides for itself at the expense of the common good; powerful, greedy factions promote themselves, not the general welfare; and, with the fragments of liberty we still enjoy, we haven't the resources to bequeath any such blessings to our posterity.
The intents of the Constitution are not our problem; if achieved, they could sustain the health and viability of our nation indefinitely. Yet, we are retreating from these ethical goals because the Constitution does not provide realistic means for achieving them. To the contrary, politicians have twisted its words to create a safe haven for self-service in government.
For example, most politicians claim they were elected to serve their constituents. Yet, according to the Constitution, they are elected to represent their constituents, not to serve them. Officials are elected to serve the nation, to "form a more perfect union." This means they must not represent only the greed of their constituents; they must also represent their patriotism and altruism. And clearly, Constitutional ethics does not allow pork barrel, for it promotes the parochial interests of some regions at the expense of others. Nor can politicians legitimately use their offices to secure their own careers, or to serve the ambitions of the political parties.
In short, the light of Constitutional ethics exposes self-service as unethical. Therefore, under the proposed Code, officials who put self-service above public service would do so at their own peril: They would risk swift, decisive termination.
Providing Supervision and FeedbackThe Code's third objective is to provide continual feedback to our controlling institutions by holding our employees to the terms of their employment, not merely during election season, but every day of their employment. Guaranteed tenure in office invites theft and other forms of corruption. Banks don't hire employees for guaranteed fixed terms, warning them only that theft or embezzlement might jeopardize renewal of subsequent contracts. Neither should we. Instead, we should supervise our employees constantly to ensure that their performance meets their contractual obligations.
We cannot provide effective feedback without obtaining accurate knowledge concerning the actions of our leaders. Yet, because politics is forged of political fictions, deceit is a time honored tradition in politics. As formalized by the Senate Rules Committee in the 1993 Packwood hearings, the ruling class imposes no duty on itself to speak the truth. Thus, relying on the words of politicians is like leaning on a beam of light. This leaves us only one technique to dependably evaluate the performance of politicians: Ignore what they say, and watch what they do.
Not only must we watch politicians constantly, we must watch them ourselves. We cannot trust the media to do this for us for several reasons: First, journalists are not empowered to require honest responses from politicians. The opposite is typically true: Journalists act as conduits for political propaganda because they are beholden to politicians for easy information, and they rarely risk alienating their sources. Also, as the fourth estate, the media has an inherent conflict of interest: Because it has its own agenda, it disseminates only the information chosen by publishers and editors. Guided by their own biases, political ideologies, economic objectives, or mental blind spots, these persons, like politicians, choose their words for maximum effect. By twisting words and phrases, the press acts as a lens, cropping images, distorting shapes, focusing selectively, flattening or elevating textures, and adding or subtracting color. And finally, of course, the press is a business, not a public service. It thrives, not by educating, but by entertaining. And salacious gossip concerning celebrities, political or not, is far more entertaining than the day by day operations of government.
Defining the People's ResponsibilitiesThe fourth objective of the Code is to specify the means by which the people could execute our responsibilities to our nation. Through executing the code, we, the people, would accept full responsibility for the health of our nation. Though we complain about our political impotence, we are responsible for having lost control of our government. We should have delegated our power to our employees; instead, we gave it away. Therefore, like absentee owners who expect their employees to work selflessly, we have invited grand theft.
Moreover, we have regularly demonstrated that we are duped by the false promises of politicians, and seduced by their appeals to our greed. Through pork barrel, politicians routinely sustain their careers by looting the treasury to buy the votes of their constituents. Of course, the victimized taxpayers of the other 49 states are helpless to stop this thievery: They can't vote to throw out the rascals who represent the greed of citizens of foreign districts.
Executing the CodeIf they were trustworthy, politicians wouldn't offer the ill-gotten riches of pork barrel; and if they were ethical, citizens wouldn't accept them. Thus, irresponsible politicians and irresponsible citizens have created an irresponsible government. However, by bringing ethics to our government, the proposed Code could stop pork barrel, bribery by special interests, and other prevailing forms of corruption.
The Uniform Code of Political Justice would meet the goals outlined above by empowering the people to operate a Citizen Corps, a cadre of qualified citizens. Citizens selected for this honor would serve for no more than two years, and receive reimbursement for their service equal to the salaries of members of congress.Discussion and Summary
Safeguards against corruption would be written into the rules governing the Corps. Specifically, members of the Corps would serve in groups of three, but to avoid clique mentality, the membership of these groups would rotate regularly. To prevent their seduction, Corps members would never be assigned to monitor their own elected representatives. And to reduce the risk of bribery by scrutinized politicians, Corps members and their families would be prohibited from obtaining anything of value from politicians or the government, including jobs, during their periods of service and for ten years after.
To ensure responsible, competent oversight of the nation's elected and appointed employees, the standards for members of the Corps would be extremely high. Thus, unlike politicians, Corps members would be required to demonstrate their mental fitness to perform their duties. Formal tests would be applied to measure their ability to "do ethics"--that is, to perform the work of ethical analysis. For example, qualified citizens could: (1) reliably recognize personal biases, methods, and objectives; (2) distinguish reality from political fiction; (3) compare the common good with lesser interests; and (4) discern the differences between facts and values.
The principal work of the Citizen Corps would be accomplished by conducting routine ethical audits on public officials. These audits would be designed to reward responsible public service, and to expose bribery, pork barrel, party-service, or other forms of self-service. The audits would consist of reviewing all actions of public officials, and weighing the consequences of those actions on the scale of public service.
Legislators would be required to account for all of their meetings or discussions with lobbyists, citizens, or other politicians. Issues subject to reporting would include the topics discussed in these meetings, and any actions taken by the officials that relate to these topics: Thus, audits would cover any requests made, incentives offered, threats made, quid pro quo proposals, as well as any money, vacation trips, campaign contributions, or other gifts offered and accepted by the officials.
Ethical audits would be public property, and could be cross-compared with those of other politicians to discover any contradictions. In other words, the proposed Code would make individual officials responsible for providing accurate information for ethical audits, and hold them personally accountable if they don't.
Citizen auditors could enforce accountability, for they would be granted total discretion to evaluate the ethical audits, and to assess penalties for any actions taken by officials that violate Constitutional ethics. These penalties would be in the form of demerits that offset the merits assigned each official upon installation in office. Public officials would begin their jobs with five merits, each of which carries an entitlement of 20 percent of the base salary, benefits, and staff allowances established for the office. Therefore, one demerit would reduce an official's merits to four, and reduce his or her salary and other benefits by 20 percent.
Demerits would accumulate according to the seriousness of each instance of ethical misconduct, with particularly egregious offenses resulting in five demerits. Moreover, evidence of covering up, withholding, or falsifying audit information could result in one or more demerits, depending on the seriousness of the fraud. On the other hand, to encourage rehabilitation, one merit could be restored after one year, provided no additional demerits were issued.
Loss of all five merits would automatically require a hearing before a Court-Political, a three member tribunal selected from the Citizen Corps. Like a Court-Martial, the Court-Political would be empowered to dishonorably discharge employees who violate the terms of their employment, or otherwise abuse the public trust. Dishonorably discharged officials would lose, not only their jobs, but all of their retirement and medical benefits. They would also be disqualified from any future position of public trust, and they would be forbidden to benefit from their former position in jobs such as lobbying. Moreover, officials could not escape a Court-Political by resigning their offices; their ethical audits, as well as the consequences of any of their official actions, would remain subject to review for their lifetimes, thereby jeopardizing their retirement benefits.
Lesser conditions of discharge could also be allowed at the discretion of the Court-Political. For example, public officials who are judged too mentally simple to comprehend the nature of their jobs could be granted general discharges. Officials who collect demerits because of mental disability or illness could be granted honorable discharges, and maintain their retirement and medical benefits.
The proposed Uniform Code of Political Justice could provide a major reorganization of American government and the political system. It would strengthen government by eliminating several sources of corruption:
By evaluating politicians on performance, not posturing and promises, the Code would eliminate the weaknesses of popular elections: Voters might continue to throw in rascals, but the Citizen Corps would decisively throw out elected officials if they fail to perform their duties, or in other ways violate Constitutional ethical standards.
By auditing politicians for ethical conduct, the Code would break the stranglehold of lobbyists: Politicians who want to keep their jobs would no longer be able to sell their offices to the highest bidders with impunity.
By identifying party loyalty as self-service, governmental stagnation would be minimized: The powers of government would be balanced among the three branches, as the Constitution intended, rather than between the two parties.
By rewarding trustworthy public service, statesmanship would be selected and retained. Term limits would be neither necessary nor advisable, for as long as they work effectively for the nation, politicians could be safely rewarded with tenure in office.We have grown accustomed to witnessing a seemingly endless parade of politicians, judges, and assorted bureaucrats indicted, tried, and convicted on criminal charges. Yet, vigorous law enforcement does not begin to attain the objectives of the proposed Code. For every official convicted of a crime, there are at least ten who are not doing their jobs; and the criminal law doesn't address issues of employment.
Besides, when accused of wrongful activities, politicians ignore the ethics of their behavior, taking sanctuary in their familiar slogan, "I've done nothing illegal." They also routinely lay claim to the Fifth Amendment shield against self-incrimination, and to the presumption of innocence. In doing so, they pervert Constitutional aims further: These rights were meant to protect the governed from the governors, not to protect the governors from the governed.
Because the Code applies to terms of employment, not to criminal charges, it would complement the criminal law by placing the burden on officials to prove that their service is honorable. The Code is intended, not to punish, but to ensure that officials don't pervert the public trust into self-service. Therefore, by evaluating politicians for the jobs they actually do, rather than for what they say they do, the proposed Code would achieve its greatest objective: It would create a governmental environment that attracts public servants, not privateers, party toadies, and petty tyrants.
As a national pastime, the game of politics has far greater public relevance than baseball. But for democracy to work, it must be expanded to a game of active participation, for if the majority of Americans continue to treat politics as a spectator sport, all hopes for the democratic republic are dead. By exercising our responsibilities as well as our rights, we citizens can join the game, and guarantee enactment of a Uniform Code of Political Justice. We would even find allies among those elected officials who have not yet been corrupted, and don't want to be. In other words, if we citizens apply our energy to improve our government, many public servants would find the courage to follow us. As for the others, we can use our vote to throw them out, and to replace them with men and women who are committed to the goals of honorable, healthy government for "ourselves and our posterity."
It is unfortunate that a measure as severe as the Uniform Code of Political Justice is necessary to fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence and to secure the aims of the Constitution. Yet, it is fortunate that the Constitution allows for its own amendment for just this purpose.
Therefore, if we Americans would rather respect our government than complain about it, our Constitution grants us the power and legal authority to change it. Desperately hoping to create a responsive, responsible government, we have been spending our money to enact laws, and expending our energy to support self-proclaimed saviors. But our political system is a black hole that swallows our cash, work, and dreams, then belches at us. To create the government we deserve, and to attract leaders we can respect, we must apply the best of our wisdom to resurrecting the ideals and goals of the American Revolution.