What does accountability mean to you? To some, it’s an old-fashioned term that’s now defunct. To others, myself included, it’s an extremely important concept. How this is tied to the title of this post – what’s wrong with government? – will be revealed, I promise. But for starters, I’d like to give you a short and vague lesson in British politics and how accountability comes into it. In my country, we do not have separation of powers. There are no executive, legislative and judicial branches. Our equivalent to Congress is Parliament, our House of Representatives is the House of Commons and our Senate is the House of Lords. Members of each House are known as Members of Parliament, or MPs. MPs are elected to the Commons at General Elections and appointed to the Lords by the government. Even the Prime Minister – our equivalent to your President – is an MP. He has a constituency to worry about.
Yes, we elected him. We’re still not sure why.
In order to form a government, a given party needs to win a majority of the seats in the Commons during a General Election. If they don’t, but they still have the largest share, they can either form a minority government (which doesn’t get anything done) or a coalition, like we have now. Coalitions are extremely rare. For decades, we’ve had majority governments, where key ministers in the government are also MPs in the Commons or the Lords. The result of this is that the government in the UK is ridiculously powerful. Because we don’t have a constitution like you good folks in the US, the Prime Minister can direct the MPs in his party (which are in the majority, you see, else he wouldn’t be Prime Minister in the first place) to all vote on a constitutional issue and . . . that’s it. He could dissolve the entire House of Lords in an afternoon if he wanted to. He wouldn’t, because the people don’t want it, but the point is that he could.
He looks a whole lot more malicious now, doesn’t he?
Now, finally, here’s the point: the only people who can remove the Prime Minister from office are his own MPs. He’s not above the law, because they can hold him accountable, but the way they do it is to hold a vote of no confidence. Because passing a vote requires a majority and so does forming a government, it’s technically the government voting itself out of office and calling a General Election.
Back to the USA, where Presidents can be impeached and tried by Congress. Here’s the crux of the matter: Congress doesn’t have to be controlled by the same party that the President belongs to and your whips system, by which Congressmen are goaded into voting a certain way, isn’t nearly as strong as ours. This means that members of the President’s party are far less afraid of holding their President accountable, unlike in England, where votes of no confidence never really happen. In fact, accountability permeates the US political system. Representatives are re-elected to terms of just two years, meaning they have to appease their constituents or they’ll be voted out soon enough. The same goes for Senators, though they enjoy the relative safety of a six-year term. Governors can be recalled, while MPs can’t. Even Presidents, if unpopular, can be rendered powerless by a hostile Congress – even when unpopular, the Prime Minister can still order his party to hold votes and to pass laws.
So, what’s wrong with government? Republicans say it’s too large. They view it as a bloated organism that’s far too big for its own good and is consuming money that should be going into the pockets of the people. I totally and categorically disagree. In the USA, you are blessed with a democracy far truer than we have here in the UK (more on that in subsequent posts). With such an accountable government, what’s the problem? Don’t like your politicians? Vote them out. Are they breaking the law? They’ll be impeached. We can’t even vote out members of the Lords – we just don’t have the right.
I suppose it comes down to your view of what government is for. Republicans see it as a small component of a country that tries some criminals, makes a few laws and little else. But I see it as a tool, the manifestation of the will of the people. It’s a way for a few among a population to control their fellows and still be subject to their approval. It’s the only way for a society to govern itself, a wonderful system that has evolved in almost every corner of the world over thousands of years. So I say what’s wrong with government? So long as it’s accountable, it’s just the people you’ve chosen to tell you what to do doing their job – and what else would you want from them?
Uninformed, deluded or craven. I think those are your choices if you’re conservative and caught spouting the “We Built This!” nonsense. Forget roads, forget the power grid, forget regulatory schemes, forget all infrastructure – the indisputable reality is that you did not build “this” on your own. Not totally on your own, anyway.
Let’s talk about Cheryl and Eli Valenzuela, who will be speaking this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The Valenzuela’s own First State Manufacturing (FSM), a successful small business which they started in a garage doing upholstery, but which has subsequently expanded to making other products, like baseball ump vests and vests for the Israeli military.
Cheryl is scheduled to speak at the Republican National Convention, an ostensible flesh-and-blood embodiment of Republicans’ mantra “We Built This”. The phrase amounts to a rebuke of President Obama’s recent remarks that small business owners didn’t build their business in isolation without help from others. Forget that the remarks have been shamelessly taken out of context for a moment. Forget that, logically, it is impossible for you to build a small business in America totally on your own. Forget that you’re an adult and should know that without me having to write this article to remind you of that basic fact.
No, forget all that and just remember this: What is hilarious to the utmost about Cheryl Valenzuela speaking — as a living example of the “We Built This!” them, mind you—is that the Valenzuela’s didn’t even come close to building it on their own. Subsequent research on FSM, by Justin Acuff at Addictinginfo.org, has revealed the following:
1) The Valenzuela’s’ new 66,000 square-foot facility is funded by a $1.8 million US Small Business Administration (SBA) 504 loan
2) Eli Valenzuela learned the upholstery trade through correspondence courses in the Army, and he applied what he learned at Dover Air Force Base, upholstering C-5 cargo planes.
3) Before Eli and Cheryl opened their upholstery business in the garage, they first received help and advice from the non-profit SCORE Association and Delaware Small Business Development Center to compose a business plan.
4) FSM was initially funded by a $20,000 guaranteed SBA loan.
5) Eli and Cheryl also became certified in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program.
6) In 2001, FSM received another $96,500 guaranteed SBA loan in order to modernize and expand.
7) After 9/11 and during the ensuing recession, FSM obtained a $65,800 SBA disaster loan to maintain their business and employees until the business climate improved.
Kind of takes the wind out of the “We Built That!” sails, doesn’t it? So, when you’re listening to inane conservative drivel this week about how we all did this “ourselves”, without any help from others; as you watch Republicans strut and chest-bump to “We Built That!” at a convention held in the 62% publicly-financed ($86 million) Tampa Bay Times Forum, keep these little facts as a obvious and commonsense reminder that, no, we didn’t build it all ourselves.
We all need help, and we all are in it together – a fact of life most people know without having to be told. Some of us (Yeah I’m talking to you, conservatives), it seems, are comically uninformed, hopelessly deluded, or just cynically craven, about the “We Built This!” theme. You pick.
By Nathan Wilson
It never amazes me what the Tea Baggers come up with. There is a huge campaign to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri so the challenger Rep Todd Akin was asked how abortions should be legal in case of rape.
First of all, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,
Since this douche bag has a degree in management engineering this somehow qualifies him as some expert on natural biological functions of women.
Oh, I am sorry. This is what he understands from doctors. I would really like for him to release the names of the Doctors that gave him this very misleading information. It would be interesting to see what scientific evidence they have come up with to prove this theory.
According to Rep. Todd Akin if a child is conceived during rape it really falls on the fault of the woman for not naturally rejecting unwanted sperm.