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A betrayal of the democratic process

Melvin B. Miller | 10/23/2013, 12:19 p.m.
Americans were betrayed by the members of Congress and U.S. senators responsible for shutting down the government in an effort ...
“I gotta be careful how I vote. Congress can put us out of work.” Photo by Dan Drew

Americans were betrayed by the members of Congress and U.S. senators responsible for shutting down the government in an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act. While there were some citizens who approved of the tactics, polls indicate there has been considerable damage in the public’s support for the Republican Party, which was primarily responsible. Nonetheless, the betrayers undoubtedly believe they are patriots, even though the debacle has deprived workers of paychecks, caused a business loss of $24 billion, embarrassed the U.S. around the world by causing it to be seen as ungovernable and violated the values and principles of American democracy. Politically aware citizens have every reason now to be suspicious of the motives of their elected officials.

The focus of the conservative attack was to deny funding to finance the Affordable Care Act. They seemed not to understand that Obamacare has survived the most strenuous test that the democratic system can impose. First it was subjected to debate in congressional committees. It was then approved in the House and the Senate. After it was signed into law by Obama its constitutionality was challenged in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 28, 2012, that Obamacare is constitutionally acceptable.

Democratic vetting for Obamacare went even further. In November 2012, Barack Obama was re-elected president. Voters went to the polls to support him, in part because of his commitment to the Affordable Care Act. What is more, U.S. senators who supported Obamacare were also re-elected. Clearly the people rejected severe opposition to Obamacare.

Despite being rebuked by the democratic process, conservatives were still willing to close down the government and also cause the U.S. to default on its debts by refusing to increase the debt limit. Judging from news comments from conservative legislators, few seemed sophisticated enough to understand the financial impact of the U.S. failure to pay its debts on time.

Anyone who has missed a required minimum credit card payment knows what happens. The interest rate goes up. With about $11 billion borrowed each week by the government even a small increase in the interest rate would be expensive for U.S. taxpayers. For Americans a default would be even more damaging. The U.S. dollar would lose its status as equivalent to the global gold standard of currency.

There will be considerable rationalizations to justify the failed Tea Party kamikaze mission. Some will undoubtedly insist that the conservatives are true patriots, willing to do whatever is necessary to save the republic from a destructive health plan. But the real lesson is that voters have an even greater responsibility today, in this complex high-tech society, to stay well informed. It is not enough just to vote.

Fortunately, it is human nature to desire democracy. Once enlivened, that spirit is hard to vanquish. But democracy has sometimes been vanquished by tyrants or by demagogues who were able to deceive the people with an appealing presentation. Many voters who did not want their representatives to shut down the government were disappointed when their congressmen joined with the Tea Partiers.

The usual reaction to such political betrayal is to withdraw from participation in the democratic process. A better approach is to become more keenly aware of the real qualities of candidates. Whether the election is for a city, state or federal office, every citizen has a duty to become fully involved to select the best possible candidate. Only then will the democratic system work effectively for everyone.