For democracy to work as the Founders intended, bureaucrats cannot choose our elected officials. As obvious as this proposition appears, a federal investigation has concluded that this is what happened to the late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
A federal court-appointed investigator concluded that Department of Justice career officials acted corruptly in their corruption prosecution of Stevens. In 2008, a week after DOJ prosecutors won a guilty verdict in federal court, he narrowly lost his reelection bid— by less than 4,000 votes—to Mark Begich who became the Democrats’ 60th Senate vote in their quest to pass, among other legislation, Obamacare.
According to the investigator’s report, the prosecution team engaged in “systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence” which might have exonerated Stevens. Even before the release of the report, in 2009, the Department of Justice, under Attorney General Eric Holder, concluded that the Stevens prosecution team had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct and asked the judge, who had already declared two of the attorneys in contempt of court, to set aside his conviction. Subsequently the DOJ reassigned some of the attorneys; one committed suicide.
Defenders of aggressive federal prosecution of elected officials would argue that voters deserve protection from corrupt officials. A professional, nonpartisan career staff—in other words, the bureaucracy—reduces partisan, politically-motivated prosecutions to a minimum.
But any attempted defense of “the professionals” against the partisans ignores the real problem by failing to place prosecutions in the context of the most grandiose defense of bureaucracy: the progressive dream of an apolitical public service that would hold ultimate political power. This year we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the publication of Woodrow Wilson’s “The Study of Administration,” in which then-professor Wilson proposed that a few, wise hundreds govern with skill and economy and train others to work beside them.
Because they are wise, the bureaucrats deserve to prevail over the “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish” people, who come from a mix of different nationalities. Through the arts of persuasion, a “considerate, paternal government” becomes the new goal of our politics.
Twenty-five years later, Wilson would get the chance to make his political science of a wise ruling class a political reality. For 2012 also marks the 100th anniversary of Wilson’s presidential campaign address, “What is Progress?” which even more explicitly attacks the American Founders—Wilson was the first President to do so—and proposes that a new politics be based on Darwinian evolution to replace their antiquated view of individual rights and hence of the separation of powers and limited, constitutional government.
Wilson’s scholarly and political ambitions would take generations to fulfill. Throughout the twentieth century, progressives and liberals promoted the cause of bureaucracy against popular government. Legal scholars such as Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s colleague at the University of Chicago Law School and now a high-ranking official at his Office of Management and Budget, have made the superiority of bureaucracy to democracy the core of their argument for greater power for the bureaucracy. An essential tool of this agenda is to supply bureaucracy with the wherewithal to prosecute elected officials: Wise, nonpartisan administration must cleanse corrupt politics.
Of course we cannot declare members of Congress off-limits to federal prosecution. But consider what Alaskans, to take just this state, have done to rein in their elected officials. When long-time senator Frank Murkowski won election as Governor, he replaced himself by appointing his daughter Lisa. A feisty reform Mayor of Wasilla (population 7,831) defeated Governor Murkowski in the 2006 Republican primary and became Alaska’s first woman Governor.
It would be naïve to assert that the cure for the ills of democracy is simply more democracy. But the cure is surely not more bureaucracy. And those are the choices today: raucous democracy and the chance for liberty, or officious bureaucracy and the smothering of liberty.
Every once in a while, somebody has to get the bureaucracy by the neck and shake it loose and say “stop what you’re doing.” ~ Ronald Reagan