In the wake of ObamaCare’s victory and the ugliness of its path to the president’s desk, it’s hard not to conclude that there’s no longer anything particularly “democratic” about the Democratic Party. That’s the subject of Tunku Varadarajan’s latest musings on the Daily Beast:
Americans have witnessed, in the last days, an ugly and extraordinary display of how the practice of democracy can so often overwhelm its theory: They saw, first, how those who claim an exalted moral stature for health-care reform made a naked attempt to dodge a basic constitutional requirement for the passing of a bill. The subversion of the Constitution was abandoned when it became clear that the Supreme Court would not put up with a law that had been “deemed” to have passed.
What Americans saw next was the legislative souk at its most squalid: cajoling, bribing, threatening, wheedling, all designed to bring on board those Democratic congressmen and -women whose votes were needed to attain (or surpass) the number 216, and whose “principles” were getting in the way of a “yes” vote. Hewing to principle is difficult, because it makes party whips angry, spoils dinner parties, and ends careers and friendships. So Kucinich, Stupak & Co. succumbed. To borrow a phrase from Tony Judt, the historian, writing in the latest New York Review of Books: “We… have abandoned politics to those for whom actual power is far more interesting than its metaphorical implications.”
I’ve highlighted Varadarajan’s observations about the healthcare debates as indicative of the leftist conception of democracy, and how sharply it deviates from the Founding Fathers’ views, before. Throughout this entire process, the Democrats have tried to scare off substantive questions and disagreement with seething vitriol, have lied about serious flaws with the legislation, have bought supporters rather than convinced them on the merits, and have attempted to circumvent the democratic process itself. On healthcare and other issues, Barack Obama often insists that “the time for talk is over.” (All of this, incredibly, for a bill many Democrats couldn’t even be bothered to read before passing.)
On its merits, ObamaCare suffers from obvious inconsistencies with the Founders’ views—you tell me if a single law consisting of well over 2,000 pages of new federal regulations is consistent with Federalist 62’s warning that:
It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.
But beyond that, how it became law is equally at odds with the Founding. The Founders were acutely aware of the dangers of democracy’s potential to be swept up by passion and emotionalism, and knowing the dangers of making major decisions in haste, they deliberately calibrated the legislative branch to resist such impulses. In Federalist 63, Publius says:
As the cool and deliberate sense of the community ought, in all governments, and actually will, in all free governments, ultimately prevail over the views of its rulers; so there are particular moments in public affairs when the people, stimulated by some irregular passion, or some illicit advantage, or misled by the artful misrepresentations of interested men, may call for measures which they themselves will afterwards be the most ready to lament and condemn.
It is commonly lamented that lawmaking is a slow process, and that it’s hard to get anything done in Washington, but that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. “I want this” and “look at those unfortunate people” are natural human emotions, but whatever their source, emotions alone do not good policy make. Good government demands that heated emotion must ultimately give way to careful reason, which is exactly what our Constitution was intended to promote, by establishing a bicameral legislature meant to operate within clearly defined parameters. But as the Founders knew, mechanical safeguards can only go so far—ultimately, it is up to the character of the people and their elected officials to keep a republic. And on that score, today’s ruling party fails completely.