FGF E-Package
A Voice from Fly-Over Country
November 17, 2009

Representative Government?
by Robert L. Hale

MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA — Does the United States actually have a representative government?

In theory, the privilege of voting is based on the presumption that we elect to public office individuals to represent our interests. We expect those we elect to review, study, understand, and evaluate laws before voting on them. This duty to represent is a sacred trust, and failure to fulfill this duty is a breach of that trust.

The question of whether we are a “representative” government raises two related questions. First, are those we elect representing us by actually reviewing, studying, evaluating and understanding the laws on which they vote? Second, if they are not, who is?

Senator Thomas Carper (D–Del.), responding to questions about the health care legislation in the U.S. Senate, recently said, “I don’t expect to actually read the legislative language because reading the legislative language is among the more confusing things I’ve ever read in my life.” He likened legislative language to “gibberish.”

He claimed: “When you get into the legislative language, Senator Conrad actually read some of it, several pages of it, the other day. I don’t think anybody had a clue — including people who have served on this committee for decades — what he was talking about. Legislative language is so arcane, so confusing, refers to other parts of the code — ‘and after the first syllable insert the word X’ — and it’s just, it really doesn’t make much sense. The idea of reading the legislative language: It’s just anyone who says that they can do that and actually get much out of it is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.”

Carper said he does not read bills because he cannot understand them; he just reads summaries instead. This is the norm, not the exception. It is the case with virtually all the bills Congress considers.

Further major pieces of legislation are introduced by title only or in outline form, and our representatives vote them into law — before they are even written or read! The Patriot Act is an example, voted into law before it was written. So much for deliberative representation. The Cap and Trade legislation is another.

Thousand-page bills are often brought up for votes without the representatives having time to read them, let alone study and understand them. The congressional leadership has aggressively opposed efforts to stop this practice. These are not insignificant pieces of legislation. The Patriot Act, for example, has had and will continue to have a profound impact on our freedom of movement and privacy. The Cap and Trade bill, if passed by the Senate, will result in the largest effective tax increase in the history of our country.

Equally disturbing is what such legislation authorizes. These bills are essentially guidelines. They set out “policy” and delegate to unelected — and virtually unaccountable — committees and bureaucrats the unlimited power to impose the rules and regulations implementing these policies. Bills spawn tens of thousands of additional pages of interpretations, rules, regulations, and mandates written by faceless bureaucrats and special interests. By the time the reality of these bills hits and the public demands corrections and explanations, our elected officials simply shrug.

There is a saying, “the devil is in the details.” The shameful truth is that those we elect to know the details acknowledge they do not even try to understand them.

We do not have a representative government in America today. Laws are written in unintelligible code by anonymous special interests, and our representatives shield these interests’ schemes. The officials do not represent those who elect them; they do not do their job; they do not even try. Instead, they blindly vote for what they have not read, what they do not understand, and what they have no interest in studying.

Declaring legislation to be “arcane, or gibberish, or unintelligible” is unacceptable. Congressmen have a responsibility to demand clear, concise, understandable legislation and to reject anything that does not meet that standard.

Anyone unable or unwilling to read and understand every word prior to voting should leave or be removed from office. Anything else is a disgrace to the country.

A Voice from Fly-Over Country archives

A Voice from Fly-Over Country is copyright © 2009 by Robert L. Hale and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Robert L. Hale received his J.D. in law from Gonzaga University Law School in Spokane, Washington. He is founder and director of a non-profit public interest law firm. For more than three decades he has been involved in drafting proposed laws and counseling elected officials in ways to remove burdensome and unnecessary rules and regulations.

See a complete biographical sketch.

To subscribe or donate to the FGF E-Package online or send a check to:
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation
344 Maple Avenue West, #281
Vienna, VA 22180

@ 2023 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation