If you listen to congressional Republicans defend their shutdown scheme and crusade to destroy the federal health care system, they’ll routinely use the same phrase. The “American people,” the GOP claims, are on their side. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued at a press conference yesterday, for example, “The White House may not get it, but, frankly, the American people get it.”
Ordinarily, the reflexive response is to point to recent polls, which overwhelmingly show that the public does not want Republicans to shut down the government, and does not want the law to be defunded, but does want GOP leaders to compromise.
But at a certain level, polls are of limited persuasive value. Let’s pause to consider another angle.
It may seem like ages ago, but about 10 months ago, the United States held national elections. One party, the Republican Party, ran on a fairly specific platform, near the top of which was a promise to destroy the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Their rivals, the Democratic Party, also had a platform, which included preservation of the Affordable Care Act.
The “American people” were asked to make a choice. And they did.
At the presidential level, the Democratic candidate won with relative ease, and became only the sixth presidential candidate in American history to win 51% of the popular vote twice. In the U.S. Senate, Democrats not only held their majority for the fourth consecutive election cycle, they also unexpectedly added seats. In the U.S. House, Democratic candidates collectively won 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates.
These are not minor details. We have a constitutional system of government and free national elections in which we, the people, help set a course for our country. GOP candidate made their case, lost, and forfeited their claims to a popular mandate.
And yet, when it came time to govern, Republicans decided it was still time to pursue an aggressive, right-wing agenda, predicated on manufactured crises, extortion politics, a misguided culture war, and non-negotiable demands.
We’ve all heard the “elections have consequences” adage many times, but let’s be clear about what we’re witnessing in 2013: Republicans are very clearly telling the country, “No, actually, elections don’t have consequences. We’re still going to do as we please.”
Democracies aren’t supposed to work this way.