Let democracy be democracy.
President Barack Obama was conciliatory with the “responsible Republicans” who found a way to make a deal with Democrats and pass the continuing budget resolution that last night ended the government shutdown and raised the national sovereign debt ceiling. But he was hard on the radicals who not only took the people’s government and national political process hostage, demanding ransom for reopening the government, but who also voted last night to push the nation into default.
A fair-minded independent can sympathize. No president should have to face the threat that a radical minority in Congress will set figurative fire to the edifice of democratic government, unless they can extract the concessions they seek. We sometimes have presidents from the Republican Party, sometimes from the Democratic Party; each of them is the president who leads the government that works for all of us, for all citizens.
Our legislators have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution that makes it so, and which, in theory, provides clarity about the fact that they work for us. In our democratic republic, we are subject to the rule of law, but those who make laws are not supposed seek, in any way, shape or form, unilateral control over policies that govern our fate. Though many may not see it clearly, Pres. Obama was defending not a pet policy or a partisan interest, but this fundamental principle of democratic government—that your government belongs to you, and owes its labor to you, and must govern with divided power and in line with the rule of law.
The outcome—thanks to the coordinated solution agreed by bipartisan Senate leadership, bipartisan House leadership, and in step with the White House—did as much to protect the political rights and interests of conservative voters as of progressives supporting the president and his policies. We narrowly avoided the first debt default in our nation’s history, and our government is once again at work, after a shutdown that cost our economy at least $24 billion, or the equivalent of 461,000 average household annual salaries.
So, here’s an idea… let’s let democracy be democracy.
The Republican Party lost the White House, the House and Senate, in 2008. It lost the White House and the Senate in 2012, and the Democratic Party, though losing the count of House seats in 2012, actually won more votes for the House of Representatives. Many Republican lawmakers are now in a terrible political jam, representing districts so solidly “safe” for their party that they are at real risk of being ousted by radicals who claim to be more conservative than the incumbent.
The leadership of the Republican Party is therefore severely weakened, and this internecine division has left neither the radicals nor the moderates with enough real political clout to stage an effective resistance to the president—by far the biggest vote-getter in the history of American elections. If we let our democracy be a democracy, then we have to admit to something that in the current climate might seem radical: both parties must negotiate and must do so in good faith.
The Democrats must negotiate, to ensure the opposition has a say in policies that will likely become staples of our political and economic system for generations to come; doing so effectively will allow us to transcend this toxic partisan conflict and actually make better, more resilient policies. The Republicans must negotiate, and they must do so in good faith, recognizing the real limitations of their position in government, at the moment, because they have no other way of making any real policy at all.
All political actors have a choice here: give in to the temptations of radical partisanship, and achieve nothing constructive for the American people, or for the future history of our democracy, OR: be creative, collaborate with rivals, and be part of the solution.
Now is the moment when the American people can see, in high contrast, the distinction between those public servants who will honor their oath to uphold the democratic process of Constitutional government, and those who will openly and proudly sabotage democratic process in order to extract concessions. We all know now that more than 80% of the public has no patience for such corrosive tactics; leaders in both parties have the momentum they need to start a new process of informed, engaged constructive collaboration.
Let’s make it happen.