The Countermajoritarian Difficulty and Congressional Ethics–Ending the Shutdown

by Linda Beale

The Countermajoritarian Difficulty and Congressional Ethics–Ending the Shutdown

[Edited to add Marcotte article on role of fundamentalism in Tea Party politics.]

We have seen congressional ethics probes of Congressmen for exacting quid pro quo bribes from businessmen or for conflicts of interest or apparent failure to pay personal taxes.  What about failing to perform their most fundamental duty–to protect the integrity of the U.S. democratic process and constitutional system?

It seems to me that people like Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann, and the rest of the Tea Party acolytes in Congress are committing an ethical violation even more severe than money-corruption.  They are sacrificing the economic stability of the country and the individual lives of hundreds of thousands of its citizens to the altar of their own  personal  religio-political dogmas.   [For a discussion of the role of fundamentalist religious dogmas in Tea Party politics, see, e.g., Marcotte, Christian delusions are driving the GOP insane, Salon.com (Oct. 10, 2013).]  They are willing, that is, to extort the vast majority of citizens of this country–anyone who doesn’t agree with them–in order to get their way on something in which they are a minority of a minority.

In an increasingly unequal society in which Congresspersons are part of the “have-more” group and many, many Americans are not, the impact of their extortion is severe human suffering and permanent damage to the U.S. economy.

Democracies have to deal with something that has been called the “countermajoritarian problem”–the need to pay attention, in some situations, to the needs of a minority as against the wishes of a majority.  In the US, this has generally come about as the U.S. Supreme Court interprets the protections of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution to require the protection of the rights of ethno-social minorities to the vote, public accommodations, marriage, and other rights taken for granted by the majority against the will of a majority to suppress those rights.

Is the kind of thing the Tea Party/GOP coalition is doing in Congress today in line with this tradition of respecting “discrete and insular” minorities that might otherwise suffer inappropriate and harmful discrimination and lack of parity?  The simple and obvious answer is no.  In fact, just the opposite, as their dogmatic stance is wreaking severe harm on the most vulnerable amongst us and threatening the fragile recovery from the Great Recession that already dealt a blow to the 99%. Besides, rural, less educated voters, many from the South, have for many years exercised considerable outsized political power because of (among other things) their ability to elect senators representing many fewer people than for urban metropolises. In fact, the Tea Party/GOP coalition has wielded over the last forty years considerable power to veto most progressive ideas through the use of the “filibuster” in the Senate, which makes it easy for a small minority to require a super-majority to pass any legislation. Thus, we get the ongoing cycle of the right’s anti-“entitlement” sloganeering that supports farm subsidies  (representing a corporate farm entitlement for the wealthy) while cutting food stamps (especially necessary for urban poor), huge increases in military activity (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and “enemy combatants” jailed forever at Guantanamo without due process, and all those military- related expenditures) and corporate tax avoidance, for which they are willing to sacrifice research funding, education funding, and the safety net provided by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Yet in spite of that filibuster and the enormous power allowed under the democratic process to such strong minority voices, a much weakened form of health care reform (not even including a public Medicare-for-all option) passed through the democratic process and became law.  So the economic terrorists in the Tea Party/GOP coalition–aided by  House follower-in-chief John Boehner–refuse to end the extortion and let a “clean” continuing resolution make it to the House floor.  If a clean bill came to a voite, it’ appears clear that Democrats and less extreme Republicans would pass it to put the government back fully in business.  Instead, Boehner apparently cares more about his “leadership” position than the good of the country and is willing to allow the radical right to continue to extort the nation to get their way.  Shouldn’t that be an ethical violation in itself?

Even if not an ethical violation, it clearly is a perversion of the kind of situation in which the “countermajoritarian” interests of the Civil War constitutional amendments are intended to operate.  Real people are suffering.  Native Americans are confined to even greater poverty on tribal lands.  Families that are dependent on federal programs of various kinds are desperate.  Food-insecure people and federal employees on furlough are worrying about mortgages, tuition, and where the next meal will come from. And it gets worse the longer it goes.

One has to wonder–do these Tea Party/GOP activists have no shame?  Can they not see the individual harm they are doing to people all over the country, while they continue to get paid or are so rich that they can give up their pay to charity and pat themselves on the shoulder that they are now “suffering” along with the poor?  Are their egos so large that they care only about their own “rapture” (as Michele Bachmann indicated recently) rather than about the daily suffering they are causing?

IT IS TIME TO END THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AND INCREASE THE DEBT CEILING WITH CLEAN BILLS.  THE SHUTDOWN SHOULD END WITH NO CONCESSION TO THE TEA PARTY MINORITY EXTORTIONISTS.  THE DEBT LIMIT SHOULD BE INCREASED FOR AT LEAST A YEAR, TO REMOVE THE POTENTIAL FOR ONE CRISIS AFTER ANOTHER AS IDEOLOGUES IN THE TEA PARTY TRY TO SHOVE THEIR VIEWS DOWN THE COUNTRY’S THROAT.

If you agree, you can sign a petition (circulated by Barbara Boxer, Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Mazie Nirono, Mary Landrieu, Patrick Leahy, Claire McCaskill, Patty Murray, Jack Reed, Brian Schatz and Mark Udall) to Republican leaders to end the government shutdown.

End the Shutdown

The devastating effects of the GOP’s government shutdown are real — and they’ll only get worse the longer this goes unresolved.

This entire debacle could be over in a few minutes if House Republican leaders would just agree to bring a “clean” budget — one that funds the government without killing Obamacare — up for a vote.

Sign the petition to Speaker John Boehner and House Republican leaders: Bring the Senate-passed budget to the floor for a vote — and end this government shutdown, right now.

cross posted with ataxingmatter

 

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