Monday, February 8, 2010

The one question to ask Republican friends

Do you believe in democracy? That's the question to ask Republican friends.

Many avowed conservatives will say "We're not a democracy. We're a constitutional republic." This is nonsense. True, America isn't a direct democracy, as ancient Athens was (if you didn't count its slaves). But of course we're a kind of democracy--as our Constitution mandates. "Democracy" doesn't mean "Direct Democracy." That's just one kind. We're a representative democracy--another kind, included in the basic dictionary definition of "Democracy."

Once you've batted down that detour, ask once again "Do you believe in democracy?"

This is crucial, because nearly all the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have demonstrated that they don't believe in democracy.

The Senate's 41 Republicans don't represent 41% of the voters. They represent about a third, due to the fact that Montana gets the same number of senators as California, and the most populous states (Texas notwithstanding) are mainly Democrat majority, while the least populous states (Delaware notwithstanding) are mainly Republican majority.

So now we have the disaster of one third of the American people being able to dictate legislation to the other two thirds. Nothing in the Constitution's careful set of checks and balances envisions or supports this kind of minority rule.

Do Republicans really believe it's better to have minority rule of this sort than for the other party to get to enact the legislation it was elected to enact?

Say you're a doctrinaire Republican--opposing "big government," deficit spending, expansion of the federal government, foreign involvements except when absolutely necessary, and social issues such as abortion.

Say the party in the majority would, given its way, enact legislation that goes against all of this.

Then would supporting your agenda and opposing theirs justify, in your mind, destroying our democratic form of government?

A key component of an advanced democracy is the losing side accepting defeat. The Republican Party leadership has decided not to do this. Gridlocking the United States Senate is just one example of this new policy--the policy of the permanent campaign, of demonizing the other side, of claiming that the Republican Party's ends justify the means now being used.

Remember the Republican reign of Congress from 1994-2006? Time after time they railed against Democrats using a lightweight version of the Republicans' gridlocking tactics, demanding that judicial confirmations and a lot more go to "an up or down vote." Now the Republicans have abused Senate rules about filibustering to block 70% of Democratic legislation and personnel confirmations. They're preventing over 2/3 of Senate work from reaching that "up or down vote."

So ask your Republican friends: "Do you believe in democracy? Because your party's leadership doesn't. And if you actually believe in democracy, pressure your party's leadership to follow suit and quit blocking everything."

Note that I'm not saying this because I want everything the Democratic Party wants. I don't, as this blog's other entries demonstrate. But I do want to live in a democracy, and I'm willing to pay the price of not getting what I want all the time in order to reap the benefits of living in a democracy. Are Republicans?

If not, they've morphed from a political party into a primitive tribe in which tribal loyalty trumps principles.


Sean said...

I too am frustrated with the amount of stonewalling being done in Congress. A "me-first" culture seems to have become even more prominent in recent years, and our divided Congress is seizing up - unable to accomplish necessary functions. Although the influence of the Senate vs. the House of Representatives are the official ways of making sure minorities are not drowned out, I wonder if our current set-up hasn't set us up with some unintended side-effects (filibusters).

That being said, aspects of minority rule have benefited both the Left and the Right. Some topics that come to mind: Prop 8 results, Civil Rights of the 60's, failed illegal-immigration reform, the NRA, ...

Of course, no matter who's in the majority in Congress, the minority would cry foul if motions were made to put a permanent stop to cancers such as filibusters and pork-bloated bills.

Ehkzu said...

Any time your side's in the minority it's easy to find hot button issues that seem to justify blocking the majority.

This is why I think we all have to propose a set of rules guaranteeing a modicum of minority rights that we're willing to live with when our side is in AND out of power.

That's the real challenge. Otherwise we're guilty of special pleading, which corrodes democracy.

Anonymous said...


This isn't really about filibusters, but a response to a couple of your other posts...

1. It appears you have posted at FuturePundit. FuturePundit is run by Randall Parker, who I know a bit. A good guy. Note that Randall Parker also runs ParaPundit ( ParaPundit focuses on a number of issues including immigration...

2. Obama is a snob. No kidding. Don't believe me? Check out "Obama Visits Billionaires Row" ( His visit to Billionaires row is notable not just for his (very) well received fund raising, but what he said (privately, it leaked anyway) while he was there. I quote

"And it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations"

Elitist? I think so. Obama was challenged about his statement some number of times. His response was "it's true isn't it?".

3. On Bank Regulation. You critique of the GOP and bank regulation is only partially correct. Remember that the House Republicans voted against TARP and killed it for a while. Why? Because a great many of them believe that free markets including the right to fail, not get bailouts. I know a few Republican Congressmen and they were (are) just as opposed to Wall Street handouts as Matt Taibbi. By contrast, Obama appointed Timothy Geithner as the Secratary of the Treasury after he did such a great job as the chairman of the New York Fed and paying his own taxes...

4. Accusations that Lou Dobbs is a racist are laughable. His wife is Mexican-American and they have two daughers together.

5. You have the politics of Eminent Domain wrong. Ordinary Republicans and Republican politicians were outraged by Kelo vs. City of New London. Of course, Republican property developers were presumably thrilled. However, see Note that the New York Times and the Washington Post endoursed Kelo.

For the record, I supported Kelo as well. I strong oppose using eminent domain for private purposes. However, I don't think it is unconstitutional, merely dismal public policy.

6. You have the details of Bush and Rangers stadium wrong. No land was "stolen for pennies on the dollar". Eminent domain was used to obtain 13 acres of land (not 200 acres). The owners of the land (the Mathes family) sued claiming that the land was worth more than they were paid. A jury agreed with them and awarded a $5 million judgement. With interest this came to $7.5 million. The legal case was against the development authority which paid the judgement. The development authority claimed that the team was liable for the cost of the judgement under the terms of the original development agreement.

Initially the team refused to pay, but eventually did. Note that the team was later sold at a very large profit to Thomas Hicks. The gain to the original investors (roughly $160 million) dwarfed the difference over the value of the Mathes land.

See , , and

There are any number of things that I find objectionable about Bush's dealings with the Rangers and the City of Arlington. However, the "theft" of private property isn't one of them.

What is your Email address? I was not able to find it.

Thank you

Peter Schaeffer

didjya said...

Hats off to the republicans for preventing the left wing from cramming a bill through that polls show the majority of Americans are not in favor of. We want reform that will cut costs, not another big social spending plan that will put our nation into even more debt. Thank goodness for gridlock!

Ehkzu said...

didjya's post proves my point: that people committed to an ideology suffer from target fixation.

In this case, suppose that didjya is right--that the healthcare bill is bad for America and is opposed by a majority of Americans.

But even if that's true--is it worth sacrificing our democracy to stop that bill?

From didjya's comment, it looks like (s)he thinks that isn't even a consideration--i.e. government is just a set of positions, and the structure, the process of government doesn't matter.

Positions are sexy, hot, exciting. Structure is none of the above.

But without that democratic structure, government becomes unaccountable. That's what you get in Communist China--government is incredibly efficient. But if they roll over you, you have no recourse. They don't have three branches, two parties. There's just one thing, and the courts and their congress and their executives are all part of that one thing.

So watch what you wish for. When a minority in government can control what happens, that's the slippery slope to the ultimate in minority rule.

And even if that minority were say they represent the majority of voters--as the Chinese Communists say--the majority of elected legislators are the majority, not an opinion poll--unless you seriously want the country run by opinion poll.

That's true, direct democracy. But what about the fact that anyone with a swimming pool-full of money can manufacture public opinion with massive advertising, sock-puppet pundits, whisper campaigns and all the rest of the opinion-manufacturing apparatus?

Especially when a country's schools teach a stack o' facts but not how to think. Like our country.

So in this case the healthcare insurance industry has been spending well over a million dollars a month to influence public opinion. Watch any of the news channels and you'll see this at work, with the ads for the other side showing up as a trickle against a waterfall.

So even if you oppose healthcare reform, do you want it stopped by a multimillion dollar ad campaign and minority rule in Congress?

Is winning really worth the cost of winning that way? Really?