Table of Contents

previous.gif     next.gif    

Chapter Three


Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

Robert Frost

In 1967 a HIGH TIDE of protest was running against Congress. Perhaps never in the history of the republic had public opinion and its organs been so disgusted with the national legislature. One might of course, go back to critical periods of congressional history in search of parallels. Was the mass of common people, which liked Andrew Jackson, as disaffected with the Senate that opposed him? Was the Congress that wrestled with President Lincoln for control of the management of the Civil War detested by the people? Did President Wilson carry the public with him in his struggle with the Senate over the Treaty of Versailles? Did President Roosevelt in his search for a larger Supreme Court successfully incite his large following against his congressional opposition? And was Truman favored by the people over the 80th Congress that he campaigned against as "the worst in history"?

The answer is far from certain, but historians give little indication that the press and public were basically hostile to the idea of government by representative assembly. The recent reports however, have been more alarming.


We speak now always of 'legislatures,' of 'lawmaking' assemblies, and are very impatient of prolonged debates, and sneer at parliamentary bodies which cannot get their 'business' done. We join with laughing zest in Mr. Carlyle's bitter gibe at 'talking shops,' at parliaments which spend their days in endless discussion rather than in diligent prosecution of what they came together to 'do.'

Woodrow Wilson

A poll by the Louis Harris organization in December, 1963, found that 65% of a sample of the American people expressed themselves as disapproving of the record of the 88th Congress that had been in session for a year. As reported in Newsweek magazine, "the criticisms of this Congress are essentially rooted in what the people feel to be serious errors of omission-rather than commission. . . . Actually, taken as individual accomplishments, its support of the military defense program and the space program, the Senate ratification of the nuclear test-ban treaty, and the emergency railroad strike legislation all meet with high approval. But constituents think that the record of the session as a whole is simply not adequate." The same article records that "there is little in the way of public response to the time honored claim that the legislative branch is deliberative, carefully weighs the pros and the cons, and, above all, is the guardian against excessive Executive power."

Another poll by the Louis Harris organization published on January 22, 1968 in various newspapers showed that the public's confidence in Congress fell to a five-year low in 1967. At the completion of the first session of the 90th Congress, 59% of the American people disapproved of the Congress' record. "Basically, the public's unhappiness with Congress," the poll reports, "stems from a feeling that in a time of crisis in Viet Nam, racial turmoil at home and a rising cost of living, Congress has bogged down in cantankerous debate over peripheral issues and has not come up with a legislative program to meet urgent problems."

The general public's opinion is shared by the press. On May 22, 1963, the Washington Post reported that of 115 Washington journalists, 16 thought the President was doing an excellent job, only one that Congress was, whereas 50 believed that Congress was doing a poor job and only 13 the President was.

The press can be especially derogatory towards Congress. A cheap popularity is to be had thereby. Since no one in particular is to be insulted, the general body may be assailed without remorse or fear of reprisal. The severity of the attack will vary of course. On the one extreme, one may place a cartoon by the noted Herblock which depicts several named leaders of Congress in Russian uniforms blocking a road against an American truck driven by the President; this appeared in the Washington Post at the time of a Soviet blocking of American road connections with Berlin. (Herblock attracted fame years before for defending various Americans against innuendoes that they might be Russian sympathizers, wittingly and unwittingly.)

The typical editorial attack appears to concentrate upon allegations that Congress delays urgently required action: "Congress is beginning to look like a sit-down strike," write two influential columnists, Roland Evans and Robert Novak. It is allegedly ruled by Southerners whose only claim to leadership is that they have been members for many years; it is unrepresentative of the nation.

The highest form of journalistic criticism joins in. "The true function of the Congress," writes Walter Lippmann, "is to grant money, to maintain the framework of laws under which we live, to authorize administrative actions under the Constitution, to investigate the conduct of the government, and to hold the Executive accountable. It is not the function of the Congress to administer the government, to go behind the President and the heads of departments and agencies. . . . Yet there is a theory being bandied about that since Congress appropriates the money to run the government, it has the right to run the government."

Lippmann's indictment follows: Congress "has been derelict in its duty to provide satisfactorily for a vacancy in the Presidency, and his has put the stability and the continuity of the country in jeopardy.

". . . Congress is using a procedure of smothering and strangling, rather than of debating and voting, which violates the basic principles of representative government."

". . . Congress is trespassing upon the constitutional prerogatives of the President in attempting to determine foreign policy by legislative injunctions and prohibitions."

Lippmann represents the bridge between high-brow journalism and the intelligentsia. The intellectual flow across the bridge is in the final analysis the work largely of the professors of the country-particularly many social scientists, humanists outside of the classics, physicists and mathematicians, and professional educators. There is a small core of objective analysis of the congressional and legislative process, most of if of very recent origin; but the vast bulk of writing and discussion of Congress is on a pseudo-intellectual level which finds easy expression in the magazines of the country. The great current of cocksure popular contempt reinforces the flow of belief from above; for once, the liberal intellectuals are joined readily with the populist mass, and Congress is the victim.

A recent account by Dr. Charles Clapp of the views of many members of the House of Representatives declares that the "legislators are united in believing that the public is poorly informed about Congress. They insist that the views held by the public do not do justice to elected representatives, their job, or the legislative process; ignoring the fact that they and their colleagues lacked proper perspective regarding Congress prior to election, some members severely indict the voters for the misconceptions they possess. Public disparagement of congressmen and lack of appreciation of their tasks and the way they perform them are among the most discouraging and disturbing features of the job. Yet they see no remedy for the situation."

Some congressmen in fact "run against Congress" themselves, regardless of whether or not their party controls Congress. They find they can win popular response and votes by ridiculing the character and performance of the legislature; they thereupon become heroes tilting for honor in the legislative jousts.

Allegations of election profiteering at the expense of the collective image of Congress cannot, of course, be applied to named cases without evidence. Neither Senator Clifford Case of New Jersey nor Senator Clark of Pennsylvania, one a Republican, the other a Democrat, can be accused of wishing to bring the house down upon their heads, though they are two of the most vehement advocates of congressional reform in Congress today. Let us look at several remarks of Senator case delivered to the National Conference of the American Society for public Administration on April 4, 1963:

"Congress has been getting a black eye with the general public.

In part, this is because of the misdeeds of a few members. Congress has perhaps reluctantly, begun to do things about this and some of us would like to see a lot more done about giving the public facts about congressional travel and expenses, about contacts with regulatory and contracting agencies, about financial interests and sources of income and gifts. Putting things on the record is the best way to set the record straight and keep it straight.

In part, the decline of Congress results from a growing feeling that it is not adequately responsive to the needs of our nation-and in the minds of some, is not responsive at all.

As many of you know, I am strong proponent of Congressional reform. There are other members of our legislative body who share their concern, but I venture that the man in Washington who needs Congressional reform most and should want it most is President Kennedy.

He would be something less than human if he did not feel growing frustration as his messages citing urgent needs to the Congress are often met initially with indifference, delay and subsequent discard. As a man who urges that we get the country moving, he must feel pangs of despair as Congress twiddles and twaddles over his proposals for a tax cut, for an education bill, for medical care for the aged, for more medical schools, and a whole host of bills. A clear indication of the degree of his frustration is the fact that two of his major bills of the last Congress have not even been revived this year-the Department of Urban Affairs and the reform of unemployment compensation standards, a subject dear to him as a Senator from Massachusetts.

Virtually none of the President's current proposals have even reached a committee vote, much less a vote in the House of Representatives or the Senate. I do not suggest that these bills are the best or only answers to our problems, but I submit that the President of the United States, elected by all the people, be the Democrat or Republican, is entitled to a vote, up or down, on his major proposals . . .

Here we are in the fourth month of the Congressional session, approaching the Easter recess, which only a few years ago was considered the half-way mark in the Congressional sessions. The new Congress has passed only one public law of any consequence-an extension of the draft. Not one of the twelve major appropriation bills has cleared either house . . .

Americans who are now suffering for lack of jobs, medical care or adequate education will suffer all the longer because Congress fails to face the issues. Delay leaves public officials and administrators at all levels of government, as well as private agencies, uncertain about how to prepare programs. Several have written me, for example, inquiring about the chances for action on the library construction features of the Administration's omnibus education bill. They have plans to make and budgets to prepare and so it is understandable that they should like to know."

I have italicized some recurring themes of the Executive Force, as they appear in this typical tirade against Congress.

The 88th Congress, during which the previous remarks were delivered and the "new low" in congressional prestige was registered, slipped in due course into history. Then, mirabile dictu, we discover that it was not so bad after all: "The 88th Congress," wrote Tom Wicker in the New York Times on October 4, 1964, "one of the most productive in history, went a long way in 1964 to stem what had been a rising tide of criticism of the legislative branch . . . Those who were charging a year ago that Congress was 'dead-locked,' 'frozen,' or 'senile'-some of the choice adjectives employed by critics-cannot prove it in the final record."

Agreed, they could not prove it. Nor could they prove it in the beginning. For they should have to assert in the first place their criteria for judging Congressional performance. These criteria, which they would not wish to admit to, can be summed up in the premises that Congress should follow the President, and that Congress should follow the critics' own policies. The "best" Congress does both; a "mediocre" Congress does the latter; a "fair" Congress does the former; and a "bad" Congress does neither.


Doing nothing,
Yet there is nothing that is not done

Tao principle of inaction: Han Fei Tzu (3rd Cent.B.C.)

The allegations brought against Congress are sometimes put in the form of a statement of fact about Congress. Thus, it is alleged that Congress blocks civil rights legislation. At other times, the complaints take the form of a proposal for reform. For instance, it is said, "A question period should be introduced into congressional procedure, so that members of the executive establishment may regularly be called upon to explain their work on the floor of Congress and thereby to the public."

Both forms of statement imply a standard of evaluation. If civil rights legislation were not deemed of importance, it would be of no importance that Congress blocked or did not block it. If there were no problem of learning what the executive branch was up to, the question period would not excite interest. In both cases, we are dealing with the applied science of politics. That is, given a certain goal, what means can be taken to achieve it? In this applied science, as in all applied science, there exists first the problem of defining the goal, and secondly, the problem of the validity of the means.

Political debate commonly neglects or forgets the statement of first principles, the goals from which minor positions can be reasonably deduced. As a result people usually do not know what they want, or they want contradictory things, or they seek with enthusiasm reforms that are too minor to be consequential. They join forces with their true opposition. They fight their friends. Or more than anything else, they have little effect of any kind, but create a great wind.

There is a second tendency, at least as common, to reason falsely from the desire to the goal, to ignore or neglect or to be incompetent to establish which means are to be employed to reach the sought-for end. There is a failure of science, which is simply the application of recognized forms of logic and factual investigation in moving from a present set of conditions to a planned-for set of conditions.

It is impossible to judge Congress therefore, without a clear idea of what is expected of it. Creating an "effective" or "better" Congress is a case of applied science, like medicine and psychiatry, or social work and business management, or steering a boat and setting up an international conference. It is probably more complicated than all of these. Without ends in mind, discussion of congressional performance must be largely meaningless, just as would be teaching navigation without regard to the directions of the compass, or arguing the installation of a computer in a business without knowing the directions which the business is to follow.

For certain reasons, this simple and fundamental lesson is lost upon many when they come to deal with Congress. But the reasons are not mysterious. First of all, Congress is so old and complicated an institution that it does not occur to people to treat it as a perennially fresh problem. Or even as a rational problem. The weight of tradition hangs heavy, and impresses both lovers and enemies of the institution. It does not stimulate and tempt those who might make it work and save its intrinsic value.

Furthermore, political behavior is often blind, irrational behavior. Congress is a favorite arena for such behavior. There, it is not necessary to specify anything or justify anything in logical terms, the many rules governing legislative behavior are formal; that is, they do not go to the heart of the game. And a few of the players behave rather as they please. Politics is still taught in the colleges and the law schools, and in the other media of cultural training of the country as a species of passionate display with elements of legal quibbling and play-acting added. Under the circumstances, the idea of Congress as a place where issues may be rationally presented and scientifically studied appears farfetched. Even if Congress should become miraculously rational, the country might be more enraged than happy.

Indeed "rational" behavior many consist of profiting from the existing confusion. By covering up motives, concealing tactics, and creating illusions, victories can be won that would be otherwise difficult. A type of congressman inured to confusion and dedicated to sleight of hand develops and prospers. Changing to rationalized procedure-and exposing as a necessary consequence the principles under which the congressional struggle occurs-is resisted because it must work against such a congressman.

In addition, an exposure of the underlying direction of Congress as an institution and a clarification of the effects that Congress' structure and procedures have upon its legislation might serve to diminish the consensus upon which the institution depends for its survival and success. "Lifting the veil" is tabooed. It is not proper, for example, to consequently, challenges to Congress occur often in the form of passionate outbursts or they raise arguments about minor congressional procedures rather than basic ones. In either case, fundamental discussion of principles is avoided. Congress becomes a huge inexplicable phenomenon of the governmental system.

Finally, the goals of Congress are passed over because those who attack it are unconscious of the fact that in ideology they are anti-legislature. It is important to recognize that many critics of Congress lack self-consciousness and coherence of thought; they cannot see their reforms as more than particular improvements in the technique of conducting public business. Or, if they admit that to themselves, they may not wish to bear the brunt of the counter-attack when the clear meaning of their piecemeal tactics is exposed. What is at work in both cases is an ideology which in its full expression becomes the doctrine of the Executive Force.


Pantheon in religion, parliaments in politics, equality before the law, evenhanded justice, equality in conditions of exchange-these are symbols of conciliation that have played important parts in the cohesion of great states. . . . It is policies of this type that may safely be assumed as basic in a large scheme of national planning.

C. E. Merriam: The Role of Politics in Social Change

If it is assumed that Congress, like all practical institutions, has some design for being, and if that design must be created by a set of choices, who must fashion the choices?

Much of this book is given over to those who say that the executive represents the people and must make the choice. Congress is to criticize and advise. Of course, this only moves the solution a step farther away, because the question would again have to be raised of the executive: What is his or its philosophy?

A minority of scholars, nowadays at least, are advocates of congressional supremacy, and these say, as does the clearest of their voices, Charles Hyneman, that Congress represents the people and therefore Congress should rule the executive branch. Thus, in his book, entitled Bureaucracy in a Democracy, professor Hyneman, almost alone among American experts, weighed administrative behavior on congressional rather than presidential scales. "The American people have authorized nobody except their elected officials to speak for them. The administrator may have good judgement as to what most of the American people want but he does not know what most of the people want. . . We assure ourselves that the administrative branch of the Government will respond to the wishes of the people by subjecting it to the elected officials of the government." (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), p. 52.

However, the executive and congressional populist theories are equally mythical. Both rely upon a fictitious "people," which as we shall demonstrate, does not exist; nor can it exist. Equally correct arguments can be produced to show that the President and the Congress represent the "people" best-so long, that is, as nobody asks the embarrassing question: "What people is being talked about?" Congress represents different interests-different publics-than the executive branch and acts towards different ends as it is presently constituted. The people-or better, any given person, is represented by Congress if Congress satisfies him, by the President if satisfaction comes from that source, or by both, for that matter.

Professor Hyneman's myth will not bring us to a dogmatic acceptance of congressional supremacy any more than will the myth of executive populism which many eminent scholars such as Woodrow Wislon, Charles Merriam, and Louis Brownlow have contrived. If congressional supremacy-or better, a system of national government giving enhanced role and function to Congress-is to be espoused, it will be because the consequences of such a system, as determined by empirical examination, are deemed to be preferable philosophically to the effects of any alternative system.

What Congress should be and do demands a personal credo. The question is not: "On what does everyone agree?", for even if all agreed that Congress should continue as a branch of government, it would be a vastly different Congress in various eyes. The only accord is among those who hold to a standard and persuade others by logical and nonlogical means to follow the standard. In short, what Congress should be asked to do is what "we" want it to do. There is no evading this position without evading personal responsibility.

If this logic is acceptable, then the additional point is to be made that the form we wish Congress to take depends on the kind of society we want. The ideal of legislative government depends directly upon the ideal of the society. It would hardly do to have the two in contradiction. The legislature is a social machine, whose activity should be depended upon for part of the drive towards American ideals. Both the machine and its product must be deducible from the ideals.

However, there are many ways to state the ideals of a society, and we must seek the way that is most useful in the applied science of governmental organization. That is, we must seek operational ideals, the kind of ideals that can tell how a government should be set up and how its officers should behave.

Typically the first goals that come to mind when discussing the ends of government nowadays are food, shelter, clothing, health, and leisure. Other objectives are often put forth: protection, liberty, education, and so on. Certainly few would wish to dispute the high value of all such aims. The vision of everyone eating well, sleeping comfortably, and playing in good health is like a picture on the wall. It hangs there serene, satisfying, and final.

But a picture, whether it hangs on the wall or is a political vision, cannot create the conditions of its own existence. The fruits of life do not spontaneously generate from imagination and good will. Indeed, the image itself is nothing but a momentary visualization of the eternally changing process of satisfying of wants. "Abundance," if that is the title of our picture, would have been painted differently a century ago and will be differently depicted a century hence.

The end cannot be separated from the means to their fulfillment. The goals of food, shelter, health and leisure are so bound up with the ways in which they are sought, that they should be stated operationally, that is, according to the pattern of conduct that produces them. Value-oriented operations are the essence of government. From them come the abundant life. The basic satisfactions that a society provides are inherently defined as to quality and quantity by the instruments it employs for satisfying them.

Therefore, the ideals here prescribed for American society and government are operational. They are more abstract than food and shelter; they cannot well be painted and hung on walls. But they realize and incarnate the concrete goals as they invest and suffuse human behavior; and their product is real indeed.

These several American ideals can only be postulated now. They are premised, for they cannot be defined and argued at length here. If they are congenial, well and good, and the kind of Congress envisioned in this work will tend to produce that kind of American society. Those who object in part to the conditions of society stated here as a form of the ideal, as well as those who totally object, must find their own way of building Congress.

There is one exception. For those whose ideology and direction we call the Executive Force, a pattern of behavior and recommendations has been prepared in order to form a clear contrast with the Republican Force that we espouse.

The Republican Force represents the following goals for American society: American society should possess, it is premised, an optimal balance of possibilities for security and new experience. On the one hand, a wary eye must be kept on the inordinate growth of bureaucracy and centralism in all walks of life. On the other hand, a danger occurs in the reckless abandonment of precedent and rules; provision should be made for stabilizing values, and assuring expectations concerning what conduct should receive respect, authority, and income.

Rule of Law. Related to the desire for stability is the ideal of the rule of law. This demands that the system of legal rules in the society be clear and stable enough to permit all men to know them, and that all differences between two parties to the law, whether individuals, groups, or governments are involved, reduce towards the vanishing point in any contest before the law. Government should be by laws, not by men . All men should be equal before the law.

Equality of Opportunity. Related to the search for new experience is the ideal of equality of opportunity. The large diffusion of this ideal among the American people, its important place in the institutions and laws of the land, and its ultimate philosophical soundness place it perhaps foremost among American principles. It means essentially that a continuous and heavy preference should be given to all social activity that permits the highest level of personal achievement, that higher goals should be established in all areas of life, and that the handicaps of less privileged aspirants to the values of society should be reduced to something approaching the position of the more privileged.

Freedom. Of great importance too is the ideal of group and personal freedom. To it is related the ideal of social and personal cooperativeness. Americans need to be left to their own social devices as much as possible. Wherever interests settle in, there governments of the most local kind and voluntary associations should form and rule. The larger society should be confined to developing only a limited group of interests. They should not be forcibly increased. The fields of social and civic services, education, and business should be regulated in minimum and encouraged to run themselves.

Religiousness. The fourth and final ideal is religiousness. By religiousness is meant the cloak of God that shelters man, encourages him to humility and benevolence, even while he must be forever searching for final answers to existence. In religiousness, a man cannot hope to find final answers to ultimate questions on earth, and especially not in political terms. Such religiousness does not necessarily imply organized religion. But it correlates with those qualities of high importance to a republic: tolerance of differences, voluntarism, and spiritualism.

It may be true, as a group of civic leaders constituted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund agreed several years ago, that "Democracy is a powerful idea because it draws much of its strength from religions that posit the sanctity of the individual and the brotherhood of man." Religion is still more vivifying because it shields the state from animistic impulses that tend to center there. Free religion actually permits a secular state to come into being. It is a "secular State" in the preferable sense of the word-neither anti-religious, nor dominated by an organized religion.

If these four ideals are not shared by all Americans, they may nevertheless be sought without deliberate and serious damage to those who do not believe in them. Similarly, within the limits of possibility and within the limits of strain upon the national system, the United States should foster their extension to humanity in general. By the same token, the United States should avoid aiding any people, directly or indirectly, to pursue a contrary set of principles.

"The national interest," "the public good," "the public interest" and similar phrases must in the last analysis refer to values of this sort. Hence to avoid the treacherous argumentation that exploits the patriotic connotations these terms carry in the public mind, it is well to state here and now that the "national interest" and the "public interest" have no meaning at all unless they refer to actual policies professed and defined and recommended for the use of the nation, as the policies above have been. They are the national interest. They are the public interest-they and the policies adopted or proposed in pursuit of their larger forms.

The "national interest" for example has been often employed as an American ideal by spokesmen for the military, the State Department, and other groups. It is a verbal and semantic weapon usually wielded by the executive establishment and the presidency. This practice must be guarded against. The national interest here can mean only the ideals already enunciated plus whatever self-protective steps are to be taken to see that the search for these ideals shall not be frustrated from outside the country. And the public interest is asserted to mean the same without concern over what is occurring outside the country. When not used in such senses, it can be suspected that they are mere synonyms for whatever the advocates of special interests are seeking from Congress.

From the social ideals of a society come its complexes of institutions, and hopefully, the awareness of which institutions are best suited to the perpetuation and promotion of the ideals; for there is an abundance of institutions in American society that not only foster but also threaten to destroy the institutions and ideals here put forward.

In American society, the institutions and systems that have grown out of our historical experience with the four ideals and that deserve especial emphasis and support in perpetuating and perfecting those ideals are fairly prominent. We must confine ourselves to mentioning the institutions of the total republican system here. The author's views on them are represented fairly well in Political Behavior (New York, Free Press, 1952, 1962), chapter 7; on the judiciary in chapter 6 of Political Organization; in "Federalism," in The Conservative Papers (New York, Doubleday 1964); in Apportionment and Representative Government (New York, Praeger, 1963); in American Welfare, (New York: New York University Press, 1961), and in scattered other writings that are being collected in volumes under the title of The Science of Man in Political Society. Better perhaps would be a recourse to works along these lines: Nelson Rockefeller, The Future of Federalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962); Richard Cornuelle, Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Random, 1965) John Dewey, The Public and its problems, (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1927) and The Common Faith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934). One is the American system of law, courts, judicial process, and due process of law-the independent, non-political objective and precedent-based judiciary. Another is federalism, the system of almost independent states formed into a single union, with each element retaining and exercising vigorously a judicial, taxing, protective, and legislating power of considerable weight and consequence. A third is the pluralism of churches and voluntary associations. Yet another is the relatively free system of business enterprise.

The localized and citizen-supervised educational system is another important representation of our ideals. So is decentralization of all Government administration. The decentralization of political parties is necessary too. And finally to mentioned is the government of the union itself, which is government by legislature, protected by the principle of separation of powers and checks and balances. How the legislature operates is to be detailed below; for the moment, only its presence in this group of institutional complexes is to be noted. These institutions that the built around the four stated ideals, that nourish them and project them into the future can well be called the Republican force of the nation. Those institutions that can be invented in the future and that accomplish the same purposes are also of the Republican Force. Congress is the spearhead of the Republican Force.

Table of Contents
previous.gif     next.gif