Greenfield: Who’s Running America?

Last week the Senate Democrat majority was hospitalized with Senator John Fetterman dispatched to a psych ward and Senator Dianne Feinstein, who doesn’t seem to know where she is, hospitalized for shingles. Fetterman and Feinstein didn’t let being hospitalized slow them down and went right on co-sponsoring bills even though the former had to be hospitalized because he couldn’t take care of himself and the latter no longer recognized colleagues…

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ven in the Senate, Fetterman couldn’t understand what was being said and Feinstein wasn’t aware that she had announced her retirement. Despite that there are press releases from their offices and they’re cosponsoring legislation as if they’re functional and able to make decisions.

Senator Feinstein just introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2023 to mandate abortion nationwide while outlawing state restrictions on late-term abortion when babies can feel pain. Considering Feinstein’s own mental capacity may not be that much greater than an unborn child, she might want to reconsider the value of human life even when it can’t articulate its feelings. But Feinstein isn’t really introducing or sponsoring bills, her staffers, who announced her retirement without her knowing about it, are legislating in her name. That’s a coup.

Or what we used to call a coup before it happened and just became how things worked.

The New York Times claims that Senator Fetterman “runs his Senate operation” from a psych ward. Photos have been released of him vaguely looking at pieces of paper. No satirist could have come up with a bleaker metaphor for the country than that one of the Senate’s deciding votes has been hospitalized in a psych ward for his own safety, but is still running everything.

The paper tells us that, “since Mr. Fetterman checked in to the hospital, he has co-sponsored a bipartisan bill designed to help prevent future train derailment disasters, opened new district offices across Pennsylvania and hired four new staff members. On Wednesday, Mr. Fetterman sent a letter to the agriculture secretary.” With productivity like that, maybe we should stick all of Congress in a mental institution. Fetterman was so badly off that couldn’t feed himself in a city filled with eateries, but is now in a position to write legislation that will change the country.

Every morning, Fetterman’s chief of staff arrives with a briefcase “full of newspaper clips, statements for him to approve, legislation to review.” And so the government is run. According to the New York Times, the Senator from Pennsylvania even touchingly shares “with the nurses some of the sweets that have been sent to him by fellow senators.” But “his staff is marching on in his absence,” much as they were doing in his presence. Fetterman out of the way makes it even more convenient. The staffers run things while Fetterman munches on some candy.

The Times, in the great tradition of the three phases of a liberal scandal (1. denial, 2. minimization, 3. announcing that it’s the new normal), told its readers that “in the Senate, a staff-run institution even in the best of times, that is hardly atypical. It is not unusual for lawmakers to be told by members of their staff, sometimes after the fact, what bills they are co-sponsoring.”

“For many doing business with Mr. Fetterman’s office, the senator’s health is irrelevant,” the paper concludes.

That’s probably true, but it may be a slight issue for Pennsylvanians who are being represented by a bunch of D.C. staffers they never voted for: some of whom may have never even set foot in the state. What exactly is the difference between a representative government and an authoritarian bureaucracy when it hardly matters whether the legislators are alive or dead?

If Fetterman were to die tomorrow, the New York Times might inform us that apart from a legal technicality, his staff is marching on in his absence and occasionally showing up at his gravesite to briefly display a piece of upcoming legislation to his tomb. And for many people doing business with the late Senator Fetterman’s office, the senator’s existence is irrelevant.

Not only does the Senate Democrat majority consist of the D.C. staffers in two offices trying to work around the elected officials whose names are on the door, but the Senate’s proudest son is sitting in the Oval Office (when he’s not vacationing every other day in Delaware) and appears to have trouble completing sentences or remembering that his son didn’t die in Iraq.

Who’s actually running the White House? More of the same folks who are running the Senate.

Questions like these are not meant to be raised. Anyone who objects to legislation being cosponsored from a psych ward is a cruel ‘ableist’ bigot mocking a sick man’s disability. Asking how functional Biden is risks accusations of ‘ageism’ or discriminating against stutterers. Politics can be ugly and cruel, but you also can’t hide mental incapacity forever behind victimhood.

The House and the Senate have had their share of legislators who clearly weren’t all there, but that the White House and the Senate both depend on elected officials who are non-functional in ways so blatantly obvious that would launch a thousand SNL skits and late night routines if they belonged to the other party is not just a constitutional crisis, but raises even deeper questions.

Two of the three branches of government are not being run by the people elected to do that job. That isn’t representative government, it’s a monarchy with titular figureheads who are there to give the public the illusion of democracy over the reality that D.C. runs itself. If the Senate is a “staff-run institution,” as the Times puts it, in which the status of the actual elected officials is a mere technicality over their ability to cast votes, and the White House is currently occupied by a former Senate member whose statements are routinely corrected or walked back by officials, who is actually running the country and has our system of government become illegitimate?

The Constitution requires that a senator be at least thirty years old, but if he or she is irrelevant to the process, then we might as well have a twelve year old or Caligula’s horse in the Senate. Why does it matter?

Clearly the Constitution believed that it does matter whether an elected official is capable of discharging his duties and did not intend that those duties be carried out by an army of faceless political operatives in an imperial city who were never chosen by the voters to do anything.

If Americans were going to be ruled from a government city thousands of miles away by people they had never met and whose orders they had no way of overruling through elections, we might as well have stayed subjects of the Crown while holding on to those posh accents.

The American Revolution ushered in a government that set out to derive its authority “from the consent of the governed.” If the men and women vested with the consent of the governed are not able or allowed to govern, all that’s left is a tyranny in democracy drag.

When elected officials are the figureheads of an administrative system that runs itself, there is only the illusion of consent. There are staffers who have spent most of their adult lives in the general vicinity of the D.C. area who run both the elected and unelected government. The massive size of the federal machine makes it ungovernable and unknowable even by the army of millions of employees tasked with laboring in it. Few can understand the sheer scope of agencies and departments that break down into infinitely smaller subdivisions ad infinitum.

What granted this runaway bureaucracy a soupçon of legitimacy (besides the various crises social, financial and military that led to its constant expansion) was that there were elected officials who were in theory said to be supervising it and who had the authority to overrule any bureaucrat. Republican presidents in the last 75 years clearly demonstrated that they had little control over that system which conspired to undermine, thwart and in some cases topple them.

During the Trump administration, the administrative state openly rebelled, its members declaring that they were the “resistance,” sabotaging, leaking, usurping, investigating, framing, prosecuting, defying orders and running the country the way that they wanted to. Those four years just brought out into the open what had been going on behind the scenes for a long time.

Federal bureaucrats rebranded themselves “Dumbledore’s Army,” after the Harry Potter books and before author J.K. Rowling was canceled for questioning whether men should be allowed to use the ladies room, and announced that they would be working to stop Trump. As the Times might have written, they were “marching on” in the absence of a president that they agreed with.

Now they have one that they can use as a finger puppet and so they’re marching on under his false flag and that of Fetterman and Feinstein and other mentally incapable legislators.

Biden, Trump, Fetterman and Feinstein, in their own ways exposed the fact that the system runs on its own and requires little to no input from elected officials. Those officials can in theory override the system. And King Charles III can in theory wield all sorts of political power, but if he were to actually do so it would be another matter. Queen Elizabeth II secretly vetoed a handful of bills, if Charles III tries to do more than that, he’ll be reminded that his position is ceremonial.

The British monarchy is meant to be ceremonial, but the American presidency is becoming ceremonial too, its vestiges and trappings of office good for little more than putting on a show. Play “Hail to the Chief” or “God Save the King,” wave to the people and then go on vacation.

Like the constitutional monarchs of the British commonwealth, the elected officials of its former rebel colonies are at risk of becoming figureheads with ceremonial powers. But if shunting the Hanoverian kings aside was a move toward representative government, the rise of the administrative state and the decline of its elected officials is a move toward monarchy. The monarchs, like those who are “marching on” while Fetterman, Feinstein and Biden giggle and play with their fingers are mostly unknown. Elected officials have become ceremonial while the real power was unceremoniously and unconstitutionally vested in men and women who wield a great deal of authority, but who are neither known nor accountable to the people they serve.

And it ought to be asked who exactly serves whom?

A staffer brings Senator Fetterman a briefcase to the psych common room with some papers in it. Fetterman looks at the papers. Perhaps he even understands one word out of ten. Legislation is written by staffers and then, after it’s voted on, interpreted and defined by federal bureaucrats.

Fetterman’s function is maintaining the illusion that he has some meaningful power to do something with the incomprehensible stuff he’s looking at, which the staffers of senior Senate members have already composed and negotiated, and which may turn into something entirely different once it becomes law. Whatever Fetterman’s understanding may be, there can hardly be anything more calculated to drive a man crazy than the realization having penetrated the upper echelons of power, he is really as powerless as any other inmate of a psych ward. ✪

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