‘Defending the health of our democracy’

Updated
 
James Madison
James Madison

Kudos to James Downie for bring the Federalist Papers into the debate:

“If a faction consists of less than a majority,” wrote James Madison in Federalist No. 10, “relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.” The idea that voting expresses the popular will, that elections’ results have consequences, is fundamental to democracy. It is also an idea that Republicans are determined to ignore.

Quite right. Thomas Friedman is thinking along similar lines.

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking – not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake. […]

If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.

President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

It’s fair to say that Friedman, love him or hate him, is not a partisan bomb-thrower or a reflexive ideologue. I don’t imagine it was easy for him to write a column accusing Republican lawmakers of attacking democratic norms and abandoning the standards of the American tradition, which makes it all the more important that he did so anyway.

We talked quite a bit last week about Republicans not only threatening a shutdown, but threatening the basic tenets of our democracy, and I’m delighted to see the thesis gain traction because it’s important. What the right has decided is to embrace a level of radicalism that was hard to even imagine: if Republicans win elections, they should govern and pursue their platform, but if Democrats win elections, Republicans should threaten deliberate national harm until Democrats give in. It’s evidence of a party flirting with a “post-democracy” phase.

We have a fully legitimate process already in place, and it’s worked reasonably well for nearly a quarter of a millennium. If elected policymakers have an idea, they can introduce legislation. If the bill passes one chamber, its proponents can try to get it through the other chamber, and possibly be signed into law by the president.

It’s not easy, but it’s not supposed to be. The system was designed to be slow, with a series of choke points. This is a feature, not a bug.

For Republicans, it’s also no longer necessary. Why rely on the legislative process when radicalized lawmakers can see their party’s platform rejected by voters, start taking hostages, and demand their opponents embrace their ideas, election results be damned?

As we discussed last week, elections used to be about governing opportunities. Republicans now seem to believe they simply dictate who’ll write the ransom notes and who’ll read them.

Like it or not, this is about more than health care benefits and spending levels on a continuing resolution.

Government Shutdowns and Democracy

'Defending the health of our democracy'

Updated