23 September 2010

Republicans: The Voters Are Wrong

It was more work than it was worth getting a poky computer to show me the House Republicans' Pledge To America, which is more a statement of principles than the famous Contract With America of 1994. Its content is quite predictable: employers good, elected representatives bad and all that. It'll be news to no one that the Republicans want to dismantle as much of the "job-killing" regulatory apparatus as they can get away with, since they've long held that any accountability to civilized workplace standards is burdensome to the heroic entrepreneurial class in competitive times. I scanned the document for something novel or idiosyncratic, an authentic expression of the mood of the moment. I'm not sure if I found that much, since the Republicans have been saying the same things for the past half century, but I found one interesting passage in a closing section on the principle of checks and balances. In this passage, the GOP shifts a share of blame for our present troubles onto the shoulders of voters, whom the drafters accuse of failing to vote the proper way.

Our founders built a system of checks and balances to slow the growth of government and prevent the tyranny of the majority. The ultimate power in this system of government is held by the people, who were given the tools by our Founders to hold those they elect as their representatives accountable for their actions. Government exists to be the servant of the people, not their master. Unfortunately, the metrics used to hold Congress accountable are often flawed. Rather than using the scale of how well elected representatives represent the
views of the people, the scale is often currently measured in bills passed, dollars spent, and programs created. This must change.

Every American must ask: what has Congress done to ensure opportunity and to safeguard my liberty and the freedoms guaranteed to me in the Constitution? We stand ready to be judged by that standard.

How generous of Republicans to declare their readiness to be judged by a standard of their own choosing. How paradoxical, too, to insinuate that the people are electing people who don't represent their views, when one might otherwise assume that the fact of their election proves that politicians represent "the views of the people" at least more than the politicians who aren't elected. You may question how truly representative Republicans or Democrats ever are, given the leeway granted each party by our Bipolarchy system of government, but I wouldn't expect Republicans to accuse voters, in effect, of acting on false consciousness. The GOP seems to be saying that the views people express in elections aren't their actual views. It also seems to imply that the "views of the people" are an ideal form detached from the opinions of actual voters, but with which voters should ideally conform themselves. Conveniently enough, the Republicans summarize "the views of the people" in the next paragraph. Even before concerning ourselves with liberty, apparently, we must ask whether we "ensure opportunity" with our votes. In other words, are we making life less burdensome for our struggling entrepreneurs by making ourselves less burdensome with demands for decent wages, working conditions, etc? If not, we shouldn't think of whether the bills passed, dollars spent or programs created are necessary or desirable. If an entrepreneur can claim that he might have created another job had he cleared more profit, we must renounce our needs and interests in favor of the entrepreneur's.

"Government exists to be the servant of the people, not its master." An admirable sentiment, but what if, to serve all the people, it must appear to "master" some of them? That possibility sits beyond the pale of the Republican imagination. The Pledge is not entirely without constructive suggestions. I'd accept their challenge to include a specific Constitutional mandate in all legislation, for instance, though I don't think, given generations of Supreme Court precedents, that the requirement will limit action as much as Republicans expect. But for the most part they could just as easily have reprinted the Contract With America. The GOP has told us nothing new this week, unless you pay close attention. Then you discover that, along with all their anger at "elites," they're unhappy with millions of other Americans, ordinary voters, as well.


Anonymous said...

So which voters were "wrong"? The ones that voted in Republicans or the ones that vote in Democrats? How about adding a clause that any repugnican who doesn't follow through on that pledge will voluntarily remove themselves from the sphere of public office for the rest of their life?

Anonymous said...

It also amazes me that they talk about "a series of checks and balances", yet have no problem with the idea of Republican controlled Congress, Republican President and a majority Republican Supreme Court. I have to ask where are the checks and balances when all branches of the government act as a rubber stamp for a partisan agenda? The right-wing is exceptionally well-versed in changing the meanings of words to suit them.

Samuel Wilson said...

I suppose the current House Republicans want to say voters were wrong to elect pork-barrel Republicans like Ted Stevens as well as big-spending Democrats. We voters shouldn't choose our representatives based on whether they bring home the bacon, they're saying, but on whether they uphold the Constitution.

As for checks and balances, the Founders expected ambition to counteract ambition, Congress to resist encroachment on its turf by the President and vice versa. This worked to an extent at least until the 1960s, despite the Bipolarchy, but once the big parties became more dogmatically ideological, Congress came under more pressure to implement the will of a fellow-partisan President. The Republican Congresses under Bush & Cheney are the worst case of this change, but whenever ideology prevails, checks and balances and separation of powers are in jeopardy.