Guest column: United States is not a ‘banana republic’

Steffen Schmidt

On my last radio talk show appearance, a caller said, “Newt Gingrich is the only candidate who can save the United States.”

I reflected for a moment and then observed that the United States is not like a Central American or African banana republic or an authoritarian country like Syria or North Korea. We cannot be “saved” by some “Tin Horn Dictator” coming to power and leading us on his white horse to a better future.

We are a complex democratic society with very strong institutions at the national level and one of the most robust, decentralized forms of government in the world with strong governors and state legislatures — and with a free and diverse media that keeps an eye on everything.

At the national level, checks and balances restrain any “Great Leader” to a significant extent because power is shared with a bicameral Congress. Even just getting agreement at the legislative level is, as we know, difficult. That’s how the Founding Fathers intended it to be. They did not want either the president or even the legislative branch to push through things quickly without reflecting on the consequences. Efficiency was not their primary goal.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he will cut Congress members’ salaries and send them home. Oh, sure Governor, and ignore the United States Constitution, which provides the rules for all of those things.

Congressman Ron Paul will eliminate five Cabinet-level departments (Perry only three, but he can only remember two). Whoa, Dr. Paul, the president cannot just sign an executive order and “make it so” like Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek.

I’m afraid the rhetoric, pumped up by a sensationalist and entertainment oriented mass media, have created the illusion that all we need to do is elect a “Great Man” and all will be well. Think, Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” theme that lulled a landslide of Americans into supporting his messianic message. Four years later, we are stuck in the muck with a divided Congress and almost total gridlock in Washington.

Oh yes, and then there is the small matter of the United States Supreme Court, which can declare acts of government unconstitutional. In banana republics, “The Leader” — El Jefe Supremo — can issue order, get things done and almost never has to worry about the judicial branch because it is either weak or he has already appointed all his cronies to the courts so they will rule in his favor.

Of course, a president can set the tone and offer leadership. He essentially conducts the vast orchestra of the federal political system. But without that huge orchestra there is no music. And unless the players are willing to follow the conductor and the sheet music, you get screeching noise or silence.

I’m afraid that we have seriously lost our way when we seek out a messiah to make things right. There is no savior.

As they say, our political system stinks and is slow, but it is still the best political system around for protecting freedom and allowing the people through their elected representatives to rule — even when both the people and the elected representatives very often get it wrong.

Now go to the Web, find the county where you will be on caucus night and register to vote. Then, find the nearest Republican Iowa caucus precinct no matter where in Iowa you are on Jan. 3 and go register your preference for a Republican president. Go to the Iowa Secretary of State website. It has all the information in one place at

But don’t expect too much from one man or woman.

You are not living in Cuba.