In his 2014 State of the Union message, President Obama signaled his intention to get around the polarization and gridlock that have plagued Congress in recent years by more aggressively using his executive powers to get things done.
His frustration with the partisan gridlock in Congress is understandable, and widely shared by the American people, but is this the best way to break the impasse?
Our Constitution gives Congress the right to obstruct the President’s agenda, and it allows the President to act independently on some matters through executive orders. But elected officials are not simply meant to pursue whatever they want within the limits of the Constitution. That’s not what the Founders had in mind, and not what the American people see as the proper role for elected officials.
The Founders thought elected officials should also be guided by the ‘sense of the people,’ and not just at election time, but on an ongoing basis. As Thomas Jefferson said, the people should be the ultimate ‘arbiter.’
The people provide legitimacy in a democracy, and when government is perceived as not being aligned with the people—as it is today—it loses legitimacy.
The Founders were confident that a government guided by the sense of the people would be able to move beyond polarization and find common ground—and there’s a lot of research saying they were right—the American people are far less polarized than Congress and do tend to think in terms of the common good, not just their own self-interest.
New methods for consulting the people have been developed that offer great promise in helping government leaders find more constructive ways to work together and improve the state of our democracy. Find out what you can do to help.