Calling All Roundheads

The Capitol building. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a recent episode of The Remnant, Jonah Goldberg referred to our mutual friend  Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review as a “Roundhead.” By this he meant to indicate that Charlie is of English background, which is one way to distinguish him from the e-less Charlie Cook who writes the Cook Political Report. There are a lot of Charlie Cooks out there, as it turns out—another Charlie Cook writes cookbooks, meaning that these cookbooks are Cook books—and so some disambiguation is necessary at times. But there is another sense in which my onetime podcasting partner is a “Roundhead,” one that I hope catches on and spreads: He is what would have been known as a “Parliamentarian” during the English Civil Wars, a partisan of the legislative branch over the executive. In the American context, that makes him what is sometimes known as a “congressional supremacist.” 

(The Roundheads were called that because their ranks were dominated by Puritans who wore their hair short, in contrast to the flowing locks of the monarchical Cavaliers. At least, that’s the story: In reality, English political coiffure turns out to be more complicated. Our Charlie does not sport a Puritan buzz cut. Also, Charlie is an atheist rather than a member of the Church of England, which, from my Catholic point of view, doesn’t seem like that big a difference, but, apparently, the Puritans cared a great deal about that sort of thing.) 

There are two schools of thought about the relative powers of the three branches into which our federal government is divided. One is the theory of “coequal branches,” which holds that the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches are equal in status and in power, and that none is subordinate to the others. The idea of coequal branches fortifies the principle of separation of powers—how can powers be truly separated if the three branches are not mutually independent of one another? But if the idea of coequal branches comports well with the theory of how our constitutional order is supposed to work, congressional supremacy is more in accord with the actual text of the Constitution. We do not need to read too much into the fact that setting up the legislative branch is the Constitution’s first order of business (Article I) but we do need to understand the Constitution invests a very mighty share of national governing power in Congress compared to the other two branches—and why it does that. 

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