November 4, 2014

Cancel Midterms? Not if James Madison Has Anything to Say

Some argue midterms only handicap a president, but the Federalist Papers explain why frequent elections are needed.

Election Day 2014 is finally upon us, and with it comes the opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard at the polls. While the midterm election doesn’t receive quite the hype and fanfare from the Leftmedia a presidential election does, it is nevertheless important to our constitutional form of governance and necessary for the preservation of Liberty.

Midterm elections have historically been a referendum on the president and his party. It appears this year’s midterm election will continue that trend – complete with backlash against six long years of an imperial presidency and eight years of Democrat control of the Senate. Many Americans are simply fed up with the abuse of power in Washington, and they hope for change.

Yet there are some in America who are disturbed that the outcome of the midterm election may halt or slow down Barack Obama’s agenda of fundamentally transforming (destroying) America. Take for example the recent opinion of Duke University public policy professor David Schanzer and Jay Sullivan, a junior at Duke, who propose canceling the midterm elections. That’s right – they want to eliminate midterms entirely. And their argument is essentially that a president needs to be able to carry on with his agenda. (Where was this article in 2006?)

The anti-democratic duo claim that “when Americans’ confidence in the ability of their government to address pressing concerns is at a record low, two year House terms no longer make any sense.” They suggest modern technologies like Twitter and 24-hour news (propaganda) service enable Americans to better communicate with their elected officials than the framers of the Constitution could have imagined. Thus, in their view, “[T]he two year cycle isn’t just unnecessary; it’s harmful to American politics.”

Schanzer and Sullivan complain, “The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president.” (So what’s the problem, exactly?) They add, “[W]e spend almost two years selecting a president with a well-developed agenda, but then, less than two years after the inauguration, the midterm election cripples that same president’s ability to advance that agenda.”

The Wall Street Journal James Taranto sums up that argument: “It’s not Obama’s fault the midterms are going badly; it’s the midterms’ fault his presidency is going badly.”

Schanzer and Sullivan say the Founders just couldn’t have known what today’s political climate would be like, but we argue the system they constructed couldn’t be more relevant.

James Madison had plenty to say about the importance of checks and balances in our government, and he argued for the necessity of midterm elections as well. In Federalist No. 51, Madison highlighted the need to prevent one branch from becoming too powerful. He wrote, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on society will admit.”

In Federalist No. 52, Madison states the reason for biennial elections to occur: “As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people, so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people. Frequent elections are unquestionably the only policy by which this dependence and sympathy can be effectually secured.”

Finally, in Federalist No. 53, Madison concluded his argument for the terms and ratio of the House of Representatives with this: “[B]iennial elections will be as useful to the affairs of the public as we have seen they will be safe to the liberty of the people.”

Madison’s wisdom is still applicable today. Midterm elections are necessary to keep the government in check, to keep the other branches from abusing the power granted them by We the People. With the legislative branch (especially the House) being closest to the people, Madison understood it has the greatest chance to oppose or carry out policies another branch of government (such as the executive) seeks to impose on the nation.

The preservation of Liberty is at the heart of Madison’s argument, and to this end we have the responsibility to vote for candidates who are qualified and most likely to abide by their oaths to “support and defend” the U.S. Constitution. Certainly there may be some political races in which there seems to be little difference between the candidates. But ask yourself this question: Which candidate is more likely to fight to preserve the Constitution and the freedoms with which we are endowed by our Creator? And which candidate will better oppose the radical agenda of this president, who is determined to fundamentally transform this nation?

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