Friday, July 13, 2012

Teapublicans: Building A Bridge To The 19th Century

    By bfrederk 

We can govern ourselves in the exact way the Founders intended, or we can adequately govern an interdependent 21st century society. We cannot do both.

There is a range of possible democratic systems: at one end is an emphasis on individual rights, limited government, separation of powers, and checks and balances. This is the system our Framers put together. This is 'original intent.' This is what libertarians and Teapublicans favor. They lament that we have strayed from this founding vision. Starting with FDR and the New Deal, government has become too big. They see health care reform as continuing this historical aberration. This is what they mean when they say they want to 'take our country back.'

At the other end of the spectrum of possible democratic systems is majority rule. No separation of powers, no checks and balances, just the people electing parties to the parliament and those parties passing legislation. Most democratic systems around the world are on this end of the spectrum. Most democracies do not have federalism, executive vetoes, judicial review, or an upper house with a supermajority decision rule. Most democracies can actually do things. They are not paralyzed by partisan and institutional gridlock.  They can respond to their current realities and act to protect their citizens.

Our democratic system is not even close to this end of the spectrum, but since the 1930s it has slowly moved in that direction. We could not reconcile our constitutional tradition of limited government with 20th century realities: global depression, the cold war, and changing cultural values of race and gender. We could not establish economic safety nets, act as a global superpower, or pursue civil rights without accumulating more power at the national level. We altered our  constitutional understanding of the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, the supremacy clause, and the commander-in-chief powers to deal with these 20th century realities. We simply had to do this - imagine our lives if we had no Social Security, no Medicare, no NATO, no access to foreign oil, and no civil rights laws. We adapted our democratic system to 20th century realities. We did not govern ourselves according to original intent.

Now we  face 21st century realities. The most important contemporary reality is interdependence at community, state, national, and global levels. We are all living on this planet together: our decisions influence the lives of others, and others' decisions influence our lives. (The health care debate is so important because it is so typical of contemporary life - the decision to not buy health insurance raises health care costs for the rest of us. We are interdependent. We are all in this together.) We do not live in an 18th century frontier world of self-sufficiency. We no longer live in a world where we can live the life we want as long as the government leaves us alone.

Limited government in the 21st century means our food will not be safe. It means that college will be unaffordable for millions. It means that 50 million people will not have health insurance. It means that an unregulated Wall Street can tank the global economy. It means that we cannot build infrastructure and create jobs in tough times. It means that women and minorities cannot make discrimination claims. It means that we cannot stop spewing carbon into the atmosphere. It means - literally - that we cannot adequately govern a 21st century society.

But this is what the Teapublicans are offering us. They prefer a vision of government that not only prevents us from adequately governing a 21st century; they want to roll back our 20th century governing as well. The conservative movement to 'take our country back' by returning to a 1920s understanding of federalism and the commerce clause can undo things that other democracies take for granted.

Take a look at what is going on. The Teapublicans are building a bridge to the 19th century.  They have allowed corporate money to flow into politics. They are taking voting rights away from minorities and the poor. They are dismantling union rights. They use xenophobic language regarding immigration. They want to deny contraception to women. Their proposed budget dismantles Medicare, savages safety nets, and cuts taxes on the rich. Next year a challenge to the Voting Rights Act is going to the Supreme Court. Basic things like minimum wage laws, worker safety laws, and civil rights laws are next.

Their agenda goes beyond repealing health care reform. Their agenda is to repeal the last 80 years of progressive legislation. Their agenda is to repeal all 20th century movement in the direction of majority rule. This is a strategy that guarantees the eventual extinction of the Teapublicans. It simply is not a plausible governing strategy for a truly democratic society in the 21st century. But it sure can do a lot of damage in the short run.

Originally posted to bfrederk on Tue Jul 10, 2012