As provocative as that title is I’m not making an entirely hyperbolic claim. Let me be clear from the outset, I’m not claiming that Republicans are un-American, or that their policies are anathema to democracy. This post in fact has very little to do with policy and more to do with political strategy and the current national landscape. What must first be acknowledged are the motivations of politicians. More so than meeting the needs of their donors or heaven forbid their actual constituents politicians are motivated by the desire to win elections. Everything a politician does is in service to that end. It is this fact that is the genesis of my conclusion, but before we go into detail as to why Republicans in this election in particular are such a problem I must first describe what I mean by American Democracy.
The fundamental structure of our form of Democracy is built upon compromise. We do not have a parliamentary government in which the party in power has control of both the legislative and executive branches of government and can therefore unilaterally put forth their agenda. Quite the contrary, elections of senators are staggered in 6 year intervals, while the house is up every 2 years, and the president is up for election every 4 years. Meanwhile within this system the president and individual senators each have the ability to exert checks on the system with overrides necessitating extraordinary consensus. As a result compromise is inherent in the very fabric of our self-governance, In order to get anything done all parties must agree on something.
Congressional approval is the lowest it has ever been, and the case has been made that quantitatively this is the worst congress ever. What has been under reported is the reason this session of congress is so bad. There is no question in my mind that congressional approval and effectiveness is in the toilet because of Republican obstruction. Worse yet this obstruction isn’t by accident, or even over principle it is a craven strategic choice.
By any real measure the power of government does not lie in the hands of the executive branch but in the legislative. As a result while president Obama receives most of the blame for the economy it is not coincidental that while the economic recovery has stalled remarkable since the 2010 election no one in government has been able to do anything about it. Again this isn’t by accident, it is by design. The Republican leadership has come to believe that any measurable gain in the economy is a gain for President Obama and the Democratic Party. Additionally they have also come to the conclusion that any sign of bipartisan agreement would reflect positively on Obama as a leader.
Some may want to argue that this is no different than democratic opposition in the past. This fails to acknowledge the extent to which the Republican Party has gone to prevent progress. Their aversion to compromise and actually accomplishing anything has led to Republicans twisting themselves into knots to explain why it is actually the Democrats who are radical and extreme. I’ve made this point before but it bears repeating: President Obama has run a fairly moderate Republican administration. Look at every major piece of legislation put forth by the Obama administration and you will find their roots in conservative think tanks over the last 20 years. The biggest and most obvious example is of course the Affordable Care Act which was first put forth by the conservative group the Heritage foundation, and first put in place by the “moderate” Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. In order to portray Obama and the Democrats as extremists they must literally call their own ideas socialism. They could try to make the case that they may have implemented their ideas slightly differently, but the nature of compromise would still say that the party in power should at least have some latitude on actual implementation.
The idea here is to make it look like the party in power is radical and ineffectual, which at any given time can be considered at best debatable. I have little problem with a political party trying to make this argument. The problem is the strategy the Republican Party has chosen to employ to make this even seem plausible is to prevent any compromise. This has dire consequences for the nation and it is why I lead with such an inflammatory title. The Republican Party is banking on general public dissatisfaction to become the party in power. However if they are right and they succeed they will have proven that the party out of power can achieve political success by simply preventing congress from working. Democrats would be quite justified to point to moments in recent history where they were obstructed to justify their own obstruction once out of power. Obviously this is no way to run a country this would likely lead to a radical change of congressional rules to strip power from the minority party. Regardless of your political affiliations this should be viewed as a major departure from American Democracy.