There’s a common saying among political geeks (of whom I am admittedly one): elections have consequences.
This is shorthand for the essential bargain of democratic systems. We The People agree not to wage war and/or insurrection, and instead to conduct contests at regular intervals, during which we try to convince a majority of those who will cast a vote to see things our way. Those contests–called elections–are supposed to be fair (we aren’t supposed to use trickery or intimidation to keep eligible citizens from the polls, for example), and when they are over and the votes are counted, the contenders are supposed to abide by the results.
Now, the losers don’t have to like the results. They don’t have to agree with the wisdom of the electorate. They can console each other by agreeing that the voters were stupid or venal or misled. But in our system–in any legitimate system–the losers’ recourse isn’t sabotage; it’s the next election.
Yesterday’s headlines made it glaringly clear that a substantial portion of the GOP, locally and nationally, is no longer willing to play by those rules.
In Indiana, voters elected Glenda Ritz by a very substantial margin–a margin exceeding that of Mike Pence, who was elected Governor. The Republicans (who hold all the other offices) aren’t happy that they lost this one. Fair enough. But they have proceeded to cheat, to use the offices to which they were elected to undermine the authority of the new Superintendent, and to strip the office of the powers it had when their guy occupied it. They weren’t–and aren’t–willing to work with her until the next election, when they can try to convince voters to elect their candidate. Instead, they are doing everything they can to thwart the will of a majority of Indiana voters and undermine the democratic process.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, we have a group of Representatives–a minority even within their own party–who don’t like a law that was duly passed in a prior legislative session. A majority of Representatives and Senators voted for that law, after many months of debate. It was signed by the President, and its constitutionality was upheld by the Supreme Court. The wisdom of that law was a central issue in the ensuing Presidential campaign–an election Obama won by more than five million votes, and an election in which a million more people voted for Congressional Democrats than for Congressional Republicans.
Poll after poll confirms that a majority of Americans either favors keeping the Affordable Care Act or wishes it had gone farther. But even if that weren’t the case–even if their hatred of this particular legislation wasn’t so irrational and disproportionate–that’s not the issue. In a constitutional republic, the Tea Party goons responsible for shutting down the government cannot justify circumventing democratic processes and holding the nation hostage.
I’m not a particular fan of Thomas Friedman, but his recent column was exactly right. This is a coup. It isn’t an attack on the Affordable Care Act. It is a frontal assault on the democratic process, on government legitimacy, and on the Constitution.
It’s a refusal to play by the rules, an effort to insure that–if they don’t like the outcome–elections won’t have consequences.