You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

If the Party That Loses Can Impose Its Will, Why Bother Having Elections?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 20/10/2015 Ian Reifowitz

2015-10-20-1445349912-4289584-800pxBarack_Obama_speaks_in_Cairo_Egypt_060409.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-20-1445349912-4289584-800pxBarack_Obama_speaks_in_Cairo_Egypt_060409.jpg
What's the point of elections? Seriously, think about it for a minute. In the most practical terms, elections are how we, the people select the leaders who--within the boundaries set by the Constitution--will make the laws and determine the policies by which we live. For better or worse, our system is designed to make it very difficult for one party to make significant policy changes unless it wins both the White House and majorities of both houses of Congress. This includes a very large majority in the Senate thanks to the way the filibuster operates now, which is radically different from only a generation or two ago (opponents of Medicare, for example, never seriously considered one).
Behind all the craziness going on in the House that John Boehner so desperately wants to leave is a faction of his party which fundamentally rejects our system of democracy. That system, in the words of Thomas Mann, rests on the "Madisonian constitution's imperative for bargaining and compromise." Mann and his collaborator Norman Ornstein--highly respected political journalists described by NPR as "renowned for their carefully nonpartisan positions"--wrote in their 2012 book It's Even Worse Than It Looks that the Republican party, in particular in Congress, had become "an insurgent outlier--ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."
This past week, Mann and Ornstein revisited the matter of Republican extremism, specifically in light of the debacle that is the House of Representatives. Their interview with Francis Wilkinson is worth reading in its entirety, but here's one key excerpt, again from Mann:

There is no clear path out of our current distemper. The solution, like the diagnosis, must focus on the obvious but seldom acknowledged asymmetry between the parties. The Republican Party must become a conservative governing party once again and accept the assumptions and norms of our Madisonian system.

[snip] The burden is on the GOP because they are currently the major source of our political dysfunction. No happy talk about bipartisanship can obscure that reality. Unless other voices and movements arise within the Republican Party to change its character and course, our dysfunctional politics will continue.

John Boehner's forced abandonment of his post as Speaker of the House serves as compelling evidence of the dysfunction within the Republican Party. Ultra-conservatives in the House numbering about three dozen--the so-called "Freedom Caucus"--took him down because he wasn't conservative enough for them. Never mind that his voting record makes him the most conservative Speaker since the New Deal--his voting record stands to the right of those of Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, and well to the right of Joseph W. Martin, an Eisenhower moderate who, after his time as Speaker, actually voted for elements of LBJ's Great Society.
Boehner is a conservative, but the rightward lurch of his party has left him roughly in the middle of his caucus in terms of how he votes. A good place to be, one might think, but not when the right flank demands that their views dominate or they'll tear the place down, brick by brick. This is what Paul Waldman meant when he described their approach as a "permanent conservative rebellion."
What are their demands? A few minor changes, that's all. In return for raising the debt ceiling--which simply means writing the checks to pay the debts we have already incurred--they want "significant entitlement reforms," i.e., cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
And, in return for them allowing the government to keep operating, the Freedom Caucus demands the defunding of: Planned Parenthood, the nuclear agreement with Iran, something called "unconstitutional amnesty" (i.e., President Obama's executive actions on immigration that a court blocked earlier this year), and, of course, Obamacare. They made a number of other process-related demands as well, including that the new Speaker commit to reject any omnibus spending bill. Why? So that they could fund the parts of the government they like, such as the Department of Defense, while shutting down the parts they don't (pretty much everything else, give or take an agency or two).
Essentially, the Freedom Caucus--allied with Senate friends like Ted Cruz--is trying to blackmail America into accepting their far-right priorities even though the GOP couldn't do well enough on Election Day to get them passed through democratic means. That's what really at the heart of this. If Republicans want to repeal Obamacare and gut the New Deal and the Great Society, then fine. Let's see them run a national campaign promising to do so, and let's see them win the White House, the House of Representatives, and at least 60 Senate seats. If the American people want the Republicans to take those actions, they will say so at the ballot box.
That's what Democrats had to do to in order to pass health care reform, the most important piece of domestic legislation in a half-century. Decades earlier, the people also gave Democrats a huge mandate to pass the New Deal and the Great Society. These laws are now part of the fabric of our country, and Democrats cannot allow them to be undone simply because the other side says it's willing to destroy this village in order to save it. Our party must make them either follow through with or back down from their threats to shut down the government and default on our debt. Democrats cannot give in and reward blackmail: They must make clear how extreme their Republican opponents are, and how little they value our democratic and constitutional system.
We've seen this movie before, in the fall of 2013 when Senator Cruz and the Republican right managed to shut down the government. Then, after months of threats, the Republican coalition was ultimately broken because Democrats stood firm. This year's standoff must end the same way, with Republicans getting nothing. Otherwise--if a faction is able to implement its legislative agenda without actually winning the authority to do so from the American people--it will be our democracy that is broken, perhaps irreparably.

More from Huffington Post

The Huffington Post
The Huffington Post
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon