The Tyranny of Representative Democracy

It’s sometimes hard to follow the logic, but the nation is full of angry people, so that’s to be expected. There’s this – CNN’s Erick Erickson Suggests “Mass Bloodshed” May Be Necessary If Roe Isn’t Overturned – yes, mass bloodshed will be absolutely necessary if elected officials don’t overturn Roe v. Wade. Erickson says he speaks for his colleagues at Red State – if elected officials don’t do what is “necessary to earn our support” this must, should and will happen. He didn’t say how much time elected officials have to earn their support before mass bloodshed becomes unquestionably necessary.

And it’s easy to see his chain of thought. The will of the people, and God, has been thwarted for too long. This – having abortion be legal – is tyranny and murder. And the answer to tyranny is rising up and overthrowing that tyranny. We did that once and we can do it again. And in this case it’s not King George. Eastern elites and all sorts of those people who are not Real Americans have allowed this to happen. The courts refused to see the obvious – that a microscopic two-cell diploid eukaryote in its earliest stage of development is actually a person, a real child, and you don’t murder children. And legislators have agreed, and they let this stand. So it’s time for the people to rise up and start a bloody revolution over this matter.

But of course this is a representative democracy. Those legislators were elected by the people, many of them often over and over again. So they are the people – they are their designated representatives. And that makes this tricky. The current thought on the right is that they love this country – they just hate the current government, or in some cases government itself. And they want their country back. They long for a day when we have a government of the people, by the people and for the people once again, and not one populated by folks who were willingly elected by the people and seem to be doing pretty much what the people want and…

No wait. The argument turns on itself. The will of the people seems to be that choosing to seek an abortion should be the woman’s choice, and the government should just stay out of it. There haven’t been enough votes, ever, to overturn Roe. So the argument actually seems to be that representative democracy doesn’t work – people elect their representatives, their proxies, who do what the people want done – and their representatives do just that. But that’s not the real will of the people at work. That’s tyranny. The people didn’t want any of this, and the will of the people is what really matters.

But how do you know the will of the people except by letting them vote for who they will, for those who will do what the voters think is the right thing? Apparently one just knows.

And as the Iowa Independent reports, Michele Bachmann has the same sort of view about the national debt:

“Fortunately today we don’t face the prospect of an armed violent civil war, but instead we face the question of whether our nation will live to the latest generation is equally great. It’s an underlying issue in the struggle of our time is a slavery of a different kind,” Bachmann said to the crowd, before predicting her slavery comments would be misconstrued by the media.

“Because it is a slavery. It is a slavery that is a bondage to debt and a bondage to decline,” Bachmann went on. “That’s what that slavery entails. It’s the subservience of a sovereign people – we are a sovereign people – to a failed self-selected elite. That would be our fate.”

That’s interesting. On monetary and fiscal policy we are slaves to some sort of small, failed, self-selected elite – the folks we elected to handle such stuff for us.

How were they self-selected? They just didn’t barge in and take over. But that’s her story and she’s sticking to it. After all, who elected this Obama fellow anyway, or all those Democrats in the House and Senate too? How did we become their slaves? No one elected these people, or something.

And see Jonathan Capehart on the other part of the speech – Bachmann points out that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” That’s why it was outlawed in the Constitution, in 1789 of course. The audience cheered wildly.

Ah, no, not exactly. We did have that Civil War regarding that matter. And all this was in Iowa – she’s running for president. But why is she doing that? Elections are stupid, obviously. What really matters is the will of the people.

It gets confusing. But we all have our conservative friends who vow they will not ever bow to the tyranny of the government, pointing out that something or other that the majority of the people’s representatives voted for is illegitimate – as that’s not really the will of the people. And they’ll say that they love democracy – so the conversation then usually devolves into a discussion of just who are The People – all that talk about who is and who is not a Real American. That’s why the president of the Tea Party Nation says it “makes a lot of sense” to limit voting rights to those who own property – or others might argue it makes sense to limit voting rights to those who like NASCAR and country music, or aren’t gay, or don’t live in New York or whatever.

And of course all that is playing out, again, with the Republican effort to repeal the new healthcare law. The Republicans won back the House and say they have a clear mandate to repeal the whole damned thing – that is the will of the people, obviously, and Steve Benen reviews the jockeying back and for on that in this item:

The House, of course, has already made its move, voting last week to destroy the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. Senate Republicans demanded that the House bill receive consideration in the upper chamber, and plotted on how to use existing procedures to force the legislation onto the calendar, whether Democrats like it or not.

As of late last week, Senate Dems didn’t seem especially nervous about any of this – if Republicans want to have the debate, they’d make the most of it, forcing Republicans to vote on politically inconvenient amendments that Dems would design to make the GOP look callous and out of touch.

And Benen points out that Chuck Schumer had his strategy planned:

Do Republicans really want to vote to repeal the ban on preexisting conditions? Do they really want to repeal the guidelines that allow young adults who have graduated college and are just entering the workforce to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26? Do they really want to repeal the fix to the Medicare donut hole that will save seniors 50 percent on the cost of their prescription drugs? Do they really want to repeal free checkups for seniors that save taxpayers billions of dollars through better prevention?

Yep, do they want to argue that is the will of the people? And Benen notes that Greg Sargent did some digging:

According to a GOP Senate aide, Republicans may counter by demanding a vote on whether to repeal provisions disliked by business, such as the one that imposes an excise tax on medical device manufacturers. Those manufacturers have been complaining that this provision forces them to shoulder an unfair burden of the cost of expanded health coverage and could lead to layoffs.

The GOP aide says if Dems try to force votes on individual provisions, Republicans will respond in kind. GOP aides are combing through the legislation to find provisions that they can demand votes on, should it come to that.

“If Democrats are pushing for political votes on health care, they can expect the exact same thing,” the aide says. “They don’t really want to go back and forth and relitigate this.”


Actually, if this is really what Republicans have in mind, Dems probably wouldn’t mind the re-litigation at all. As Republicans are likely realizing, finding scary provisions in the Affordable Care Act is much easier said than done. The individual mandate notwithstanding, the vast majority of the major provisions aren’t just popular, they’re very popular. Indeed, consider the rhetorical breakdown here:

Democrats’ message: Republicans are voting to discriminate against children with preexisting conditions … and to make it harder for seniors to pay for their medication … and to kick young adults off their families’ plans … and to raise taxes on small businesses … and to increase the deficit … and repeal free preventative care.

Republicans’ message: Democrats voted to keep in place an excise tax on medical device manufacturers.

Well, the people do want the new healthcare law repealed – all of it, except for each of its parts.

And Ross Douthat frames it this way:

Last week, the Republican Party proved that it has the votes to repeal health care reform – but only in the House of Representatives. (Unfortunately for conservatives, the Senate and the White House also have a say in the matter.) The House vote on Wednesday may be remembered as a first step toward actual repeal, or as a futile exercise in fist-shaking. It all depends on whether Republicans can find a strategy for undoing the health care legislation that doesn’t involve an immediate frontal assault.

One option is for Congressional Republicans to hold hearings, stage more symbolic votes, and hope that the 2012 election delivers them a Senate majority, a new occupant in the White House and a chance at full repeal. But of course there’s no guarantee that Obama will be defeated – and even if he is, by 2013 health care reform may be more entrenched, and the Democratic Party more united than ever in its determination to defend it. (The filibuster, lately a Republican weapon, could become the means by which supporters of Obamacare ensure that it endures.)

That seems hopeless, but there is this:

Another option would be to attack the law piecemeal by going after its least popular provisions – the new taxes, the Medicare cuts and the fine for Americans who don’t buy insurance. This strategy might be good short-term politics but would do little to lay the groundwork for an actual conservative alternative. Worse, in the unlikely event that the piecemeal attacks succeeded, Obamacare would be transformed from a notionally deficit-neutral bill into a straightforward budget-buster. And heightening a program’s contradictions in the hopes that it falls apart is an approach better suited to Marxists than conservatives.

It’s a puzzle. But Douthat does offer this:

Republicans should work to deregulate the new health care exchanges, so that high-deductible, catastrophic coverage can be purchased as easily as comprehensive plans.

But Jon Cohn points out that the new law already supports high-deductible plans:

Look closely at the standards for coverage in the insurance exchanges: The minimal, or bronze, insurance option allows out-of-pocket spending of up to $12,500 for a family of four. The actuarial value is 60 percent, which means, very roughly, that the plan only covers about 60 percent of the average person’s medical bills. Those are some pretty high deductibles!

And Kevin Drum picks it up from there:

Ross’s second idea is to limit subsidies for low-income workers, which, needless to say, guts the entire point of the bill. His third is to tweak the individual mandate in ways that, as Jon Chait says, are probably sensible.

And here’s Chait:

There’s little reason to believe either that these objections represent the right’s real problem with the Affordable Care Act or that they’re willing to consider any tweak to improve the law.

The conservative base has simply been whipped into such a frenzy on this issue that it’s impossible to imagine Republicans making any change that isn’t designed to lead to full repeal. There’s a reason why conservative magazines and writers keep repeating the slogan “Repeal” endlessly. It’s more a point of honor than policy. The Affordable Care Act has become, in the right wing mind, a monstrosity, a completely illegitimate assault on American freedom, and an emotional wound that conservative elites work very hard to ensure never heals.

But not to worry:

Eventually conservatives will make their peace with health-scare reform, and either put their policy imprint on it or not. But in the meantime the overwhelming conservative impetus is to sabotage the law by any available means. A reform to the law that satisfies objections to the individual mandate, but that does not satisfy the urge to repeal the bill, will be seen by most Republicans as untouchable.

Drum adds this:

Is there any serious argument that Jon is wrong about this? Republicans have never taken universal healthcare seriously, after all. In fact, as near as I can tell, they’re philosophically opposed to the whole idea, regardless of how it’s implemented. Wonky healthcare proposals from various corners of conservativedom should mostly be thought of not as serious plans, but as useful window dressing that allows conservatives to claim on Sunday chat shows that they do too have constructive ideas about healthcare. But the plain fact is that none of these comprehensive proposals could get the support of even a quarter of the Republican congressional caucus. Maybe not even that much. Republicans have had plenty of time to think about this, and if they seriously thought that a Douthat-esque plan was a good idea they would have proposed it long ago. They didn’t, and they’re not going to this time around either.

But all Douthat was saying was that Republicans could propose dealing with all of this “in a less coercive way.”

And Matthew Yglesias tries to imagine that:

I’d certainly hope to see this as the future of the health care debate. The Douthat approach starts from the premise that the goal of universal subsidized regulated private health insurance is legitimate. And it agrees that to get there you need what the ACA offers, namely a solution to the problem of adverse selection, a regulatory definition of “health insurance,” and taxpayer financed subsidies to make it affordable to everyone. If you assume a world in which this ACA tripod is generally accepted, political disagreement then takes the form of one side wants to get ambitious with the definition of “insurance” even though this means more expensive subsidies and another side wants to restrict the cost of subsidies even though this means accepting a more modest definition of insurance.

Dream on. People are too angry for that, and we won’t see this outcome:

The upshot of that wouldn’t be my health care utopia, or even a policy I’m totally thrilled with, but I think it would be a decent outcome and it would be one in which universal coverage and the basic framework of the Affordable Care Act becomes entrenched. And this, or something like it, is the ultimate outcome of health care policy debates in most countries. Obviously left-wing and right-wing parties disagree about tax rates and spending levels, but they generally work inside a common framework.

But we’ve lost that common framework. All the talk now is about the tyranny of representative democracy. And you now know all about that tyranny. The people have spoken, and everyone knows they meant something else entirely.

How do you know that? Who knows? It depends on who you ask.

In fact, from last summer, see this, from E. Magill: The Unapologetic Geek:

The will of the people is being thwarted… This is ironically coming more from the Republicans right now than the Democrats. Many are arguing that the Democrats are doing unpopular things and are therefore wrong. In a representative democracy, this argument is especially bad, because we elect our leaders to make difficult choices, regardless of how popular their decisions are.

There are numerous examples in current events, including the healthcare bill, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” (which is neither at ground zero nor is a mosque), the new Arizona immigration law, and more. When a California judge recently tried to overturn the gay marriage ban, for instance, one of the headlines on the ever-popular right-wing Drudge Report was “1 Judge Voids 7,000,000 Voters.”

Look, just because something is unpopular, it doesn’t mean it should be illegal. That’s fascistic. The minority opinion should always be respected, regardless of what the majority thinks. More importantly, the minority’s rights should not be overturned based on nothing more than popularity. Sure, the healthcare bill was shoved down our throats by politicians who arrogantly believed they knew better than the people, and because of that, many of them will probably be voted out of office and the bill – now a law – might not ever go into full effect. As far as I can tell, that’s the government working the way it’s supposed to.

But a lot of these folks were not voted out of office. The bill was voted into law, and in spite of the Republicans now in control of the House, there are not the votes to repeal it. That also is the government working the way it’s supposed to. You either deal with it, or you redefine representative democracy. We just have a new crowd that prefers the latter.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Healthcare Reform, Politics of Grievance, Populist Outrage, Repeal of Healthcare Reform and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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