Wednesday, March 28, 2007

George I, King of the United States

From Hanno:

I know, I know, people do not like history. But here me out, I have a story to tell. Charles I became King of England in 1626. He ruled by tradition with the help of Parliament, an institution which came into being slowly over time, with odd powers and procedures, split into two parts, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, one for the aristocracy, one for the non-aristocracy. The principle power was power of the purse. The King could get money from his land, and from tariffs, but if he needed real money, say the money to fight a war, he needed to ask Parliament to pay. England was at war with Spain and France between 1625 and 1629, and the war did not go well. It was expensive, and showed no results.

The King had a favorite, namely the Duke of Buckingham (his father's lover, whom his father (James I) had raised up from the gentry to nobility). The Duke, hand picked by the King, led a military expedition into Cadiz, and it was a disaster, in large part due to the incompetence of Buckingham. He was chosen by Charles again to lead another expedition in 1627, which also led to disaster. Both expeditions were a waste of life, power and money, mostly due to incompetence.

When the King went back to Parliament to ask for more money to continue the war, parliament gave provisional approval: OK, but only if the Duke of Buckingham, your friend, is not in charge. Today, this would be called 'micro-managing the war.' The King was appalled: this directly challenged his authority to wage war, as well as his authority to choose who will execute his chosen policies. But Parliament was adamant: if you use our money to fight your war, we demand competent leadership with shown results. Otherwise, bugger off.

We can now see why our own Congress (modeled after Parliament) has the power of the purse, and why the Senate has 'advise and consent' power. We can also see why it steps on executive power, and why when the executive fails to live up to its obligations, the legislative has the power to step in. This move is not new, it is not post-Watergate erosion of the power of the president. It is more than 400 years old, and at the heart of our system. Those powers were established precisely because of circumstances like the present, where the King has bad advisers, and sticks to them out of pig headed notions of loyalty, and follows bad policy which squanders men and money. When George wants his advisers (no matter how incompetent) and his war (no matter how stupid), he wants to be King, like Charles. And when he gets annoyed at the opposition, and moves to subvert it, he is acting like Charles. King George likes to remind us that our taxes are our money. That is right. Because it is our money WE get to decide what to do with it, through Congress, not through the executive. And if we want to set a deadline for withdrawal, or we want a new Attorney General, it is our right.

Well, the story becomes more interesting still. Buckingham gets assassinated, but the war goes on. Charles dissolves parliament (which he had the power to do), and does not call it into session for more than 10 years. England becomes a fairly well functioning non-democratic state. Eventually, however, he had to call them, ask for money, and this time he cannot control the situation, and it leads to the English Civil Wars (1641-1659), and the decapitation of the King (1649).