Thursday, March 10, 2011

The State of Our Democracy

Tonight in Wisconsin the state of our democracy has broken. 19 Republican State Senators used sneaky back door maneuvers to ram through a bill stripping away the collective bargaining rights of public unions. They did this by stripping the bill of all things fiscal, meaning that this new bill does NOTHING to balance to the budget. They have finally made it perfectly clear, that the budget has always been secondary to their foremost goal of destroying unions. While I could rant endlessly about the specifics of the bill, there are already plenty of articles by myself and fellow Lefties on that matter. Instead I want to focus on this absurd process by which the Republicans have completely circumvented the rights of the minority party and rammed through their activist agenda.

In this country, we have chosen as one of the basic tenants of our government, for good or ill, that things should happen at a slow pace. We have established a system based around the right of the minority to prevent any type of drastic change. This is what caused so many Obama supporters to to stay home this past November, having seen so little of the change they had been promised. When Democrats, including myself, grew angry about the filibuster, Republicans would say it was their protection against an activist agenda being pushed through. The minority is supposed to have this fall back. I'll admit I hated it as much as anybody when they blocked everything Democrats tried to do, but as frustrating as it was, I have never imagined a system without the filibuster. The fact is, that compromise can be incredibly constructive when the two sides decide to listen to each other and worry less about the next election, and there should be protections to prevent extremes of either party from pushing forward over strong objections of a sizable minority.

But now in Wisconsin, an activist governor has decided against the expressed will of the people in every poll that he wants to strip collective bargaining rights. The Democrats, having no chance to fairly debate this bill and being completely ignored, exercised the state level version of the filibuster. They protected their rights as a minority by fleeing the state. We often forget what filibustering really means, because both sides have accepted that the very threat of a filibuster necessitates compromise, but a true filibuster means that the party will stand and talk preventing ANYTHING ELSE from happening until either their opponents back down or they tire of talking. Republicans for the past two years just like every minority party in recent history have threatened time and again to shut down the government if the majority party tries to push its agenda without compromise. Fleeing the state was designed to hold up government in the exact same way. And the Republican response, "The longer the Democrats keep up this childish stunt, the longer the majority can’t act on our agenda." Apparently, they missed, the lessons of government 101, namely the majority does not have the right to push an agenda simply because they are the majority. Discussion, debate, and compromise are basic tenants of our political system.

Both sides have admittedly, loved the filibuster as a minority and hated it as a majority, but that's the reason it has withstood the test of time. No majority should be able to completely override the will of the minority without debate or discussion. Compromise can and should lead to good things. The Democrats in Wisconsin didn't ask to prevent the cuts to benefits or wages of union employees. Instead, they sought a middle road, in which all cuts were still enacted, thus balancing the budget, and the collective bargaining rights remained protected. But instead this activist Republican majority has circumvented the minority party as well as the popular opinion and in doing so have significantly weakened the state of our American-style deliberative democracy.


wishing for better said...

The parallels are eerie. Filibuster, not just long enough to make sure the issue is noticed by the public and the decision is a conscious one, but as a means to stymie the will of an elected body. Deny a supermajority quorum, to the same end.

Loud and raucious tea party crowds invade the metings of legislators. So too do union allies and suporters.

In both circumstances, the majority feels so stymied, that they resort to non-negotiated answers -- the budget resolution for the health bill, the non-budget resolution in Wisconsin.

A key difference, the health care opponents thought they could defeat by filabuster, so they refused to negotiate. The unions were willing to talk -- whether out of fear that they couldn;t hold out forever or because they were truly more open to compromise.

In both worlds, we have lost the ability to find common ground and mediate our way to a shared resolution. Maybe the NFL players strike/lock out will never end.

When does it stop. Who is first to declare that this isn't a way for things to work in a comon democratic (small d) society. Who stands down rather than go for payback. Where is Ghandi when weneed him? Or have we lost all sewnse of the morality that made his protests so powerful.

So the R's try to repeal Obamacare rather than refine it to make it better. The D's will shoot for recall in Wisconsin and if they succeed, do we have any doubt they will restore what was lost even beyond the levels to which they were prepared to compromise???

When do we find common ground?


Gordon Stanton said...

i think there is a HUGE difference between the health care bill and the union crisis.

liberals were calling for a public option, and it was taken off the table fast in the name of compromise. some would even point out that the plan that was passed was similar to the plan Republicans proposed under Clinton. And like you said, Republicans had never even considered compromise, they just blocked it on principle.

on the other hand in wisconsin, republicans have refused to compromise in any way, setting out from the beginning to break the union. and once again the republicans show they've moved further right than even their supposed heroes. Ronald Reagen once said, "These are the values inspiring those brave workers in Poland. The values that have inspired other dissidents under Communist domination. They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost."

In both situations the republicans are moving further to the right. The democrats offer to come right of what is actually the middle to meet somewhat right of the middle(which has now been characterized as the middle) and yet the republicans refuse to do anything except go further right.

in my opinion, the left hasn't moved nearly as far away from compromise as the right has. at every attempt we've been completely rebuffed, so what else can we do?

PS ghandi is definitely the wrong example here. he practiced non violent resistance (still a form of resistance), which is actually exactly what our politicians and protesters do.

Bill said...

The fact of the matter is, in both examples it was the Republicans who refused to compromise. They did this knowing full well that the media and the public will call it a wash regardless. The above comment is indicative of the pervasive "a curse on both houses" sentiment. When negotiations fail, the people make no distinction between those who reach their hands out for compromise and those who bite those hands. I can't understand how the Democrats haven't figured out that compromise is worthless and accomplishes nothing.

Anonymous said...

We are a center/right society. Conservatism is what made us the greatest society in the history of man. It amazes me how you can support the Unions after seeing how they acted in Wisconsin. Have you ever seen how the union brass lives?