Standing on the Precipice of Democracy

My neighbor lost his job this week. When I see him later today, I’ll let him know it’s okay.

He’s just part of what Fox News is calling a slimdown.

It’s like Weight Watchers for the Federal Government.

Unfortunately, while Rep. Randy Neugebauer and other Republican politicians are yelling at Park Rangers and committing acts “of civil disobedience against themselves” (as Tom Scocca writes), my neighbor and 799,999 other federal employees are sitting at home checking bank accounts and serving beans and rice.

Understand that I hold most politicians in some small measure of contempt. As I’ve note in past blogs, we have entered an era where politics too often collides with absurdity. We are, quite honestly, being governed by people elected by increasingly small groups of special interests and lobbyists. The candidate with the best marketer and the wittiest tweet is too often elected to Congress.

But let’s make no mistake: The government shutdown is a product of a Republican attack on the Constitution. Rarely have we seen such an open and dishonest display of indignation as we are witnessing this week from the men and women of the Republican party.

This shutdown isn’t because President Obama won’t negotiate or compromise. This shutdown isn’t because of the Affordable Care Act or about reigning in government spending.

This shutdown is because a group of Republican politicians are incapable of using legislative methods to overturn a law they dislike.

This shutdown is because a political party is incapable of winning a national election to overturn a law they dislike.

This shutdown is because a small group of politicians have decided their desire trumps the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States of America because of a law they dislike.

This shutdown argues that a small group of politicians is within their rights to bring America to a halt because of a law they dislike.

This shutdown is not a principled stand against oppression. This shutdown is an act of oppression.

The Affordable Care Act was passed by both houses of Congress, signed into law by the President, and has withstood challenges in front of a very conservative Supreme Court. The law was the center piece of the last election cycle, an election that witnessed a President re-elected.

The move to shutdown the government, in essence, argues that the rule of law doesn’t matter. Republicans are arguing that a small group of determined politicians can simply close down the government if they don’t like the results of the democratic process and then demand that Constitutionally passed laws be re-negotiated outside due process.

I thought the original tea party patriots fought against a small group of rulers telling Americans how to live their lives?

Regardless of our political inclinations, we cannot and we must not support politicians who argue that anarchy and chaos are more valuable than the democratic process. The Republican House passed a spending bill that was soundly rejected. It was their duty to propose legislation they felt best suited America.

But it is also their duty to abide by the legislative process. They lost. They did not make their case. They did not win the argument.

That’s democracy. Some days I get my way and some days you get your way. Every once in a while, we both win.

Everyone of the Republicans can take their stand by voting no against a clean spending bill. They can go tell their constituents they did everything within the law, but they felt duty bound by the Constitution to uphold the law. They can keep working to limit the government and shape policy within the legislative process.

They can run for election and re-election on any platform they want.

But they don’t get to take their toys and go home just because they lose.

There is, despite what Republicans keep saying, nothing to negotiate. Either we follow the law, or we don’t. This moment in time is not about President Obama or Rep. John Boehner. This fight is about the next President and the next Congress.

This fight is about the appropriate checks and balances of American democracy.

We are, as you can imagine, on the precipice. If the Republicans are successful in their willingness to play with the American people’s welfare, we clearly open the door for the next group of House members to shut down the government when they disagree with any law duly passed or not.

In the meantime, my neighbor is still out of work, wondering how long his savings will last.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

5 Responses to Standing on the Precipice of Democracy

  1. Pingback: OPINION: To Congress – All or Nothing! | Raye's Radar

  2. tony pellegrini says:

    wow! thankfully you didnt include that the president is bending the law to how he sees fit. thankfully you didnt include that as a republican, i am tired of working to support an entitlement society.

    • John Wegner says:

      Mr. Pelligrini: Thanks for the comment. I don’t doubt people’s frustration with the government and I fully support an open debate about entitlements. We should discuss medicare, medicaid, social security, corporate tax breaks, and all those other entitlements. In fact, we should have a debate about what exactly constitutes an entitlement. But, in this situation, the President is not bending any laws. What I hope my post conveyed was the dangerous path on which the Republicans are taking us. This issue transcends party but it is the Republicans who have taken us down this road.Today, a handful of Republicans hold us hostage because they don’t like a law and tomorrow a handful of democrats return the favor because they dislike a law. The Affordable Care Act passed both houses of Congress. There was no trickery, deceit, or backroom deals. There was nothing, the Supreme Court ruled, unconstitutional about the law. Republicans (and even some Democrats) might not like the law, but they should not be able to subvert the constitutional process. That, I think, sends us down a path from which we will struggle to recover. You might be tired of supporting an entitlement society. Fine. I’m sure you voted your conscience in the last election. So did 61 million other folks. So did I. The joy of democracy is that we have a voice. The pain of democracy is that we sometimes have to listen to voices we don’t like. My fear, simply put, is that when the next Republican president and Republican Senate pass a law doing X, a band of rogue Democrats in the house will see shutting down the government as a viable legislative strategy. That’s dangerous and that’s not democracy.

  3. barbaramudge says:

    It is my genuine hope that someday I will get to sit down with you and have lunch. You are honest and insightful. I wish we could get a guy like you into office, though you probably wouldn’t like it there. Thank you for all your posts John. More often than not you give voice to my own thoughts in a way that I never could. I hope things work out alright for your neighbors and mine. I hope something good can come from all this. Like most parents, I worry what kind of America we’re leaving our kids 😦

    • John Wegner says:

      Thanks for reading. I think the struggle we all face is trying to figure out what that “good” thing might be. It’s easy to blog with simple solutions to complex issues and there are days I feel for our elected officials. (Today isn’t really one of them, though.)

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Washington Monthly

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