Is It All About Power: Census Moves to the White House

Successful democracies are not just about elections and voting, they are also about a collective political culture that recognizes institutional limits. The temporary losers in a democracy recognize they will have an opportunity to make their  political case later and need not resort to violence or other illegal means to circumvent election results. Likewise the temporary winners recognize that their time in power is also limited. Winners must show respect for the process and not try to use their position to undermine the very democracy that granted them temporary power.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that the Obama Administration is apparently trying to politicize an important function of government, the dicennial census, that ought to be free from politics, by having it supervised from within the White House.  The US Constitution calls an “actual enumeration” of people for the purpose of apportioning the number of representatives in House of Representatives. Interesting the first nine censuses were conducted by the judicial branch, the least political, not the executive branch as it now. The census clause in the Constitution is included in Article I of the Constitution suggesting a role for the legislative branch. In any case, direction by clearly partisan agents undermines confidence in the census.

The fact that the actual counting is performed by professionals in the Department of Commerce has kept the census free from scandal, but certainly not controversy. Certain groups claim that they are not sufficiently captured by the census, but the Census Department has extended programs to find people who are less likely to be counted.

The Constitution calls for an an “actual enumeration,” but some groups have argued for a statistical sampling to estimate populations. Though the use of sampling for compiling a census has not been tested in court, unless the Supreme Court elects to ignore the actual words of the Constitution, statistical sampling for the purposes of apportionment is clearly unconstitutional.

However, this does not mean the mischief cannot occur in an actual enumeration. Resources can be allocated to find every last person in a certain area with less diligence in devoted in other areas. The current plan is for the census to be supervised from the White House under highly-partisan Rahn Emmanuel, President Barack Obama’s  Chief of Staff. Even if Emmanuel were to act a thoughtful and purely apolitical manner, the prescedent of having leading the census from the White House would set the stage of future politicization. Imagine consternation among Democrats if a future Karl Rove were to be charging of supervising a future census from the White House.

If the White House cannot recognize the precedent it is setting in politicizing the census, it is unfaithful to democratic ethos and conceding that for them it is just about power.  Moving the census to the White Hous is the moral equivalent to using the IRS or the Justice Department to go after political adversaries.

One Response to “Is It All About Power: Census Moves to the White House”

  1. Ted says:

    Obama’s stealing the census from Congress has suddenly awakened and enraged the Republicans. Maybe this will arouse them as well to challenge Obama for stealing the Presidency itself. They surely know he is not an Article 2 “natural born citizen” (which is more than merely being a 14th Amendment “citizen”) by virtue of either Obama’s birth to a dad of Kenyan/British citizenship or birth in Kenya itself — as manifested by his unwillingness to supply his long form birth certificate now under seal.

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