Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Republicans don't believe in democracy

I'm definitely not one who is given to hyperbole. So when I suggest in my title that "Republicans don't believe in democracy," I'm not trying to stretch the truth or hype up a rage. I'm simply stating a fact.

I don't know when this distaste for democracy started - perhaps it goes all the way back to our founding when only white male landowners were given the right to vote. We know that this "conservative" position has been held at different times in our country's history by different parties. But its clear from the recent fights over voter suppression in the last election that it is now firmly encamped in the Republican Party.

But in some ways the Republican distaste for democracy goes even deeper than the franchise. I suspect the beginnings of those elements started with the cold war when government itself was defined as "big brother" rather than a democracy in which citizenship was the expectation.

If you want to see how that plays out today, take a look at how Dinesh D'Souza describes it in this clip in reference to Obamacare. And yes, I know that D'Souza has been disgraced recently. This discussion seems to have happened just days before that story broke. And so there is significant irony in hearing him - of all people - talk about morality.

But all that aside, I think he perfectly captures the current Republican view of our government. And it bears absolutely NO resemblance to a democracy.

In the clip D'Souza and Michael Shermer are asked how the Christian ethic of taking care of the poor and the sick affects their view of Obamacare. Shermer simply dismisses health insurance as a political issue rather than a moral one (huh?)

But D'Souza comes up with an analogy that describes how Republicans tend to view government. He is hungry and Shermer has a sandwich. If Shermer gives him the sandwich, that is a "moral" transaction. But his view of government involvement would be analogous to Obama coming along and holding a gun to Shermer's head demanding that he give D'Souza the sandwich.

Do you see what he did there? Government is not about we the people, but a system of threats and extortion by someone with a gun to our heads. It is the classic frame of "us vs them" with the "us" being the disempowered victims of the all-powerful "them." Even our founding fathers - who had such a limited view of the franchise - were pretty clear that democratically elected representatives were there to do the will of the people.

As we argue different policies with Republicans, I think this is the deep subtext that creates the divisions between us. Its important that we challenge this kind of thinking and call it out.

That's what President Obama had in mind when he focused his speech at the Democratic Convention on citizenship.
We honor the strivers, the dreamers, the risk- takers, the entrepreneurs who have always been the driving force behind our free enterprise system, the greatest engine of growth and prosperity that the world's ever known.

But we also believe in something called citizenship — citizenship, a word at the very heart of our founding, a word at the very essence of our democracy, the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations...

We, the people — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us, together through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That's what we believe.


  1. D'Souza is awful. The point he makes is thoroughly problematic, because it views virtue or morality as strictly a function of personal volition. It's not. Moreover, he presents the idea in a thoroughly dishonest way, as you noted. Nobody is threatening death over non-cooperation in paying for healthcare. There's a small fine. Maybe I've even spent too much time with D'Souza.

    I think there were anti-democratic elements in Republican ideology from the start. They were the party of Northern capital. However, our current burst seems to me to come out of Watergate. Certainly Cheney and Rumsfeld had personal grudges against anyone who would check the executive after that point, and they got their change after 9/11. It might have come earlier, though, with the huge popularity of FDR personally and the New Deal generally. They knew they were at a disadvantage when it came to what people thought.

    1. The idea that there are consequences to breaking the law (ie, small fines for not buying health insurance) hardly negates the basics of democracy. We the people elect representatives to make the law and a President to administer it. That includes establishing consequences for breaking the law.

      What you say about Nixon/Bush/Cheney reminds me that once again, Republican complaints usually include large doses of projection. They have abused the power of the presidency and so they assume that is a feature rather than a bug.

    2. Well, their base is only interested in privilege, and their leadership is only interested in power. The unitary executive types are all for unchecked power as long as they're the one's wielding it and you have planted enough stooges at the Washington Post that they won't stick their beak in your business again.

      But the penalties for not carrying insurance are not only absurdly small, but I believe that there was no collection mechanism built into the law, more or less intentionally. Meaning, you owe money, but there's no penalty for not paying it. Fact Check:

      "The law prohibits the IRS from seeking to put anybody in jail or seizing their property for simple refusal to pay the tax. The law says specifically that taxpayers “shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty” for failure to pay, and also that the IRS cannot file a tax lien (a legal claim against such things as homes, cars, wages and bank accounts) or a “levy” (seizure of property or bank accounts).

      "The law says that the IRS will collect the tax “in the same manner as an assessable penalty under subchapter B of chapter 68” of the tax code. That part of the tax code provides for imposing an additional penalty “equal to the total amount of the tax evaded, or not collected.” It also requires written notices to the taxpayer, and provides for court proceedings.

      "So it may turn out that the IRS will be suing those who fail to pay the tax for double the amount. But so far, the IRS has not spelled out exactly how it will enforce the new penalty with the limited power the law gives it."

      I can't see getting too worked up over this. Unless it's the other team's guy doing it.

    3. My intention here is not to get into the specifics of the enforcement mechanisms (or lack thereof) in Obamacare.

      What I wanted to point out is the overall view of government upon which most of the Republican positions are based. I think D'Souza's analogy captured that quite well. And as I said - it bears no resemblance to democracy.

  2. I wouldn't so much say they don't believe in democracy as they simply don't trust it. They don't trust that it will produce the best results for them, therefore it is in their best interest to subvert.

    Sadly, the distrust of democracy is not a Republican monopoly. A lot of Democrats don't trust it either. Trusting in democracy means accepting the results of democracy *regardless whether or not those results advance your personal beliefs.* It means negotiating in good faith with an opposition party when that party represents the will of their particular voters.

    In other words, it means you don't always get your way.

    1. I thought about Democrats not trusting democracy either after I published this piece and realized it could be a whole other post.

      My thoughts were about how many on the left don't trust democracy either because they assume our government has been bought and paid for. They have a point. But its one that fits right in with Republican attempts to undermine people's faith in democracy.

    2. It also feeds into the general "don't trust your government" agenda of the right-wing. I sometimes ask progressives whether they support single payer and if they support increased surveillance of American citizens. When they answer that they want the former but don't trust government to do the latter I ask them why they would trust government to run their healthcare if they don't trust government with their security?


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