Culleny: Nobody's perfect

After coming to the brink by way of acrimony and the self-pleasuring of a 21-hour fake filibuster but at the last minute not jumping off, the tea-party wing of the Republican party, led by a new senate self-promoter Ted Cruz, R-Texas, now anticipates a January debt-limit rerun. What? Are the rest of us chopped liver?

Brilliant as the men who founded the United States were, no one is perfect. Having had great distrust in government, they went ahead and established one anyway, simply because they knew that having hundreds of thousands of free-range individuals running around with muskets and mules plotting lethal mischief in pursuit of their own best interest ... well, (note to libertarians) it’d be a jungle out there.

Putting aside for the moment that even with rules it’s a jungle out here, the founders crafted their system as thoughtfully as they could to counter the natural inclination of creatures to survive by any means possible, no matter what harm it might cause to others. But as enlightened as they were, the founders refused to deal with, or simply chose to justify, some of the cruel and ruthless practices of God’s most successful predator, Man — practices such as the enslavement of Africans or the extermination of North America’s native people. Forgetting those moral failures (but just for the sake of tackling our present circumstances), they did their best to create a system of self-government that was not top-down, but bottom up. But the overturning of that effort was finally accomplished and ratified a year or so ago by the U.S. Supreme Court in its infamous Citizens United ruling that government influence could be purchased legally by the richest and most powerful bidders.

As present circumstances prove, nobility of spirit is obviously not necessary in the practice of any government. A U.S. government shutdown for political reasons is within reach of any faction that decides their idea trumps the majority view. But to their credit, the founders gave it their best shot and actually did better than many before them. Being smart, crafty and savvy to the fact that crooks and liars will relentlessly try to grab and hold as much political turf as possible, they created a system with as many checks and balances as they could devise — three co-equal branches, the executive, legislative and judicial, each keeping an ostensible eye out for the general good, each keeping each other in line, each watching for the feint, the fib, the over-reach and, in addition, staggered election cycles for different branches, varying term lengths, etc.

But nobody’s perfect. Even Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had their visionary shortcomings. Even Alexander Hamilton and John Adams could not see far enough into the future to imagine the near complete collapse of individual integrity of officials in the face of staggering corporate bribes; could not imagine their willingness — no, their hope for the opportunity — to be corrupted. These founders couldn’t foresee the election of elected representatives so acquisitive, so greedy, that they would threaten the common good of the nation to feather their own nests. And they did not imagine a legislature of men and women so willfully ignorant and void of common sense that they would allow their personal agendas and superstitions to drive the nation into the ground.

Long story short, the founders did not plan for this demise of statesmanship because they couldn’t imagine such unashamed greed and stupidity in high positions. To be fair to those men, this failure took over two-and-a-quarter centuries to come to full fruition. It took more than 225 years of creeping decadence for public corruption of government officials to become so blatantly obvious and accepted in official, elite circles.

But here we are with a clear view of a dangerous structural flaw built into our so thoughtfully devised, so-called democratic republic. Now we see the fly in the ointment. Now we know that a small faction of one party in one half of one of the three branches may control the actions of one man (the speaker of the House) and force him to jam a monkey wrench into the wheels of government to stop it cold for political advantage despite the obvious wishes of the majority. In a parliamentary democracy, the Republican Party would have lost a vote of confidence by now and be looking for new work extorting somebody else.

So there it is, Tom, John, Alexander and James. Your brilliant system is at the mercy of, among others, a crass, narcissistic Texan named Ted Cruz, a spineless crocodile weeper named John Boehner, a conclave of Ayn Rand cultists led by men like Paul Ryan, a few calloused backbiters and God-baiters such as Michele Bachmann who blasphemously call themselves Christians, and an uncompromising gaggle of anti-democrats who for the moment at least feel the reins of power in their fists. It’s too bad you had the lack of vision to realize that someday statesmanship would have run its course in the U.S.A. and the greed flag would be run up the flagpole of Congress.

Who woulda thunk? But it’s OK, it’s not your fault. Nobody’s perfect.

Culleny lives in Shelburne Falls, works in construction, is a singer/songwriter, and has done commentary for National Public Radio. His email address is

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