Whatever one may think of any particular element of the Republican Contracts with America and Indiana, we should applaud the concept itself. By casting their political platform in the form of a contract, Republican candidates showed that they respected the historic distinction between…
Whatever one may think of any particular element of the Republican Contracts with America and Indiana, we should applaud the concept itself. By casting their political platform in the form of a contract, Republican candidates showed that they respected the historic distinction between direct and representative democracy.
Ross Perot to the contrary, this country was never intended to operate as a giant "town meeting;* in our system, we elect representatives based upon their stated positions and objectives, and delegate to them the job of actually creating our laws. If we perceive that their actions following election are inconsistent with the positions they ran on, we can cast our next votes elsewhere. Representative democracy and the restrictions contained in the Bill of Rights were intended to prevent the worst excesses of popular passion – what the founders referred to as the "tyranny of the majority."
The contract approach allows voters to better judge whether elected representatives have kept their word. While no one would suggest that the terms of such a contract should exhaust all possible legislative initiatives, it clearly offers a road map to legislative priorities. Voters will have a right to feel betrayed if proponents of a contract emphasizing fiscal restraint claim a mandate for an unrelated social agenda. In essence, the contract approach allows greater accountability.
As Congress and the Indiana Legislature engage in their respective deliberations, I would also remind them of those other contracts between our government and its citizens – the United States and Indiana Constitutions.
Each generation of Americans faces challenges that are unique to its times. But as we move – quite properly – to confront contemporary problems with new policies and programs, we must ensure that such initiatives are consistent with the fundamental principles of those foregoing "contracts."
As we move to "get tougher" with criminals, let’s remember our constitutional duty to prove that we have the right ones. Due process guarantees do not prevent us from punishing wrong-doers; they are intended to insure that the people we are punishing are guilty of the crimes charged, and that the government has proved that guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In our desire to limit the terms served by our representatives, let’s be mindful of our own prerogatives as voters. In our system, we get to decide who represents us and for how long. That right carries responsibilities with it – and we need to be careful not to diminish our voting rights in our zeal to shed some of the responsibilities.
We can and should look critically at programs, like welfare, that do not appear to be working and for which there is no constitutional mandate. But reforms need to respect constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of law.
There are of course, many other examples. Government policies can and must change as society’s needs change, but our basic principles must continue to control that process. We must continue to operate within the requirements of two enduring and overwhelmingly successful contracts" to which we are all a party: our State and Federal Constitutions.