Country for Sale

     The modern Republican claims that the base of his philosophy is respect for private property. This is the lie from which the paralysis of today’s Congress springs, and the designed helplessness of the electorate.
     It’s a lie honored – if that’s the right word – by as all good Republicans who tell us, as Marxists would, that the roots of our national problems are economic, specifically, in the problem of funding government.
     We inherited this problem, and the obstruction of its solution, from the English, who faced it 450 years ago, during a period of rapid growth of government, lack of money to feed it, and widespread hatred of taxation.
     Queen Elizabeth I and her advisers fed the coffers through sale of office: Earl So-and-So relieved the crown’s immediate want with a “loan” of so many thousand pounds, for which he was given an office, local, regional or national, and his sons the reversion of the office when he died. This postponed the economic problem but didn’t solve it. Under Elizabeth’s successor, James, sale of office became scandalous, and contributed to the coming revolution.
     But English judges had ruled in 1587, in Cavendish’s case, that an office could be considered property, and heritable. Blackstone agreed in his Commentaries, writing in the 1760s: “offices, which are a right to exercise a public or private employment, and the fees and emoluments thereunto belonging, are incorporeal hereditaments.”
     So it remained. In “A History of English Law” (1923), William Holdsworth wrote: “The notion that governmental rights and offices and privileges are property to be dealt in … has died hard.”
     The system survives in the United States, lightly disguised, in our congressional reapportionment process, by which our two parties carve out and bequeath to their chosen heirs the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.
     This is not democracy – no more than the Soviet Union was a democracy, or Putin’s Russia is today – when “elected” leaders are allowed to choose precisely who among their underlings shall elect them.
     This is immoral. Worse, it is fake. It is playing upon the stupidity of an entire nation, and it is stupid and cowardly for a nation to accept it. Yet that is what our nation has been reduced to.
     Reapportionment became a scandal only when a particularly grasping and unethical man – Tom DeLay – persuaded Texas Republicans to redistrict the state before the customary 10 years had elapsed. But even so, the electorate was powerless to keep it from happening.
     That a seat in Congress is a hereditable emolument is evident from our habit, when a member of Congress dies in office, of electing his wife to fill out his term. With due respect to the women who have acquired office this way, there is no other job in the nation that a person can acquire like this. We would not hire a person as a high school janitor because his or her late spouse held the job. But we would elect her to Congress.
     If I direct my wrath at Republicans, it’s because they are the most vicious, destructive people around today, in our country, the most to blame for obstructing government from even attempting to solve our real problems.
     But both parties keep their grimy mitts on power through this perversion of the notion of private property. They have made the House of Representatives the private property of the parties. And unlike the Elizabethans, the biennial sale of the hundreds of offices in our Lower House does not benefit the nation, even temporarily; it benefits only the parties.
     Until and unless we reform the redistricting process – a rather abstruse, legalistic problem on which it will be difficult to stir up the public interest – that’s the way our faux democracy will remain.

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