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Did the “Swamp” Win? Or Was that Democracy in Action?
When you are certain of the rightness of your cause it is difficult to accept the fact that you just don’t have the votes. An evil force is at work defeating what is good and right.
We see that mind set in the minority of congressional Republicans willing to wreck havoc if they can’t get their way. Unable to find support within their own party, they throw a temper tantrum when the majority of Republicans looks elsewhere (in this case to Democrats) for the votes necessary to keep the government functioning.
They can’t accept the idea they may be wrong, or that others see problems from a different perspective and don’t agree with them. An imagined malevolence is afoot.
“The swamp won,” is the way Rep. Chip Roy of Texas characterized it.
Speaker Mike Johnson was more realistic. “When you have a three-vote majority — as we do right now — we don’t have the votes.”
For the chair of the Freedom Caucus that fact is unimportant. “We’re sending a shot across the bow … We want to see good, righteous policy … we’re not going to be part of the failure theater anymore.”
The “failure” he sees is not their failure to get the votes, but the failure of Congress to do what is “right”. The distinction is important. The first requires self-reflection. Can I be more effective? Am I wrong? Is there some merit in the opposition? Can agreement be reached? An attitude that is essential for democracies – where decisions are made by majority vote -- to function.
The second places all the blame for “failure” on the institution. There is no self-reflection. What we want can’t be negotiated, because what we want is both “good” and “righteous” (reflecting God’s laws). The swamp must be drained.
“Good” policy can be negotiated. A majority can reach agreement on what is good.
If “righteous” policy is the goal, there is no negotiating. There can be no accommodation.
History tells us that those who insist on everything end up with nothing.
“What do you agree to?” is the central question of legislative politics. Yes is the vote that moves things along. The agreements supported by a majority determine what policies will be followed and what actions will be taken. Without enough yes votes to make a majority, there is no action. There can be no government.
In politics, like economics, you bring something to the marketplace that someone else wants in order to get something that you want. To have a say, you bring your yes vote to the political market. If you are not willing to use that vote, you might as well stay home. If you demand too much you will be left out. How much you get depends on how much your vote is needed and how much your interests overlap the interests of other members of the potential majority.
The final coalition, those who have a say in what goes down, is a coalition of those willing to use their yes votes and move forward, with each achieving something of what they want and avoiding what they absolutely don’t want.
Political parties are coalitions. Factions that come together, because together they are a majority and have the power to govern. When they fracture, they are no longer a majority and don’t have the power to govern. The Republican Party has fractured. Members have not been able to agree on any major policy, program, or even funding the government.
When it has been absolutely necessary to take some action to keep government from shutting down or defaulting on its debts, Republican leaders went to the Democrats to provide the votes. There is always a way to get to a majority. In this case it was by dropping the demands of those Republican members who insisted on getting everything they wanted. The essential stuff got done.
Those holdouts, forgetting that only those willing to provide the necessary yes votes have any influence over the result, got nothing. Angry at being left out the first time, something they brought on themselves, they deposed their leader for depending on Democrat votes.
Angry about being left out the second time, again their own fault, they retaliated by blocking consideration of legislation they themselves crafted and wanted.
After being one of the consistent no votes and blocking what a majority of Republicans wanted, Roy castigated his fellows for not getting anything done. “One thing! I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one! — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!” He seemed not to understand he had always voted no.
In a democracy nobody gets everything they want. There is never a majority that agrees with you 100 percent. You have to make choices. When to hold and when to fold. Mutual accommodation is an inherent part of the process. It is a human process, based on human judgement, that allows us to make human decisions about how best to live together with our neighbors in community. A majority of yes votes decides.
There are alternatives. There are many who believe what is good, what should be done, and how community should be organized, is given to us by God, is part of natural law, or embedded in an ideology or historical imperative. They are equally convinced that their understanding of God’s will, natural law, or what should be, is the one True understanding.
For them, the majority has no authority to determine what is good. Philosophies that place authority somewhere outside human experience tend toward authoritarian rather than democratic government. God’s law, the moral law, historical necessity has to be followed and enforced. Our role is to conform.
We see the end result in those countries that have communist, fascist, or religious governments. Human expression, human diversity, human freedom is restricted. We see the beginnings in those of our own states where expression is limited, books are banned, and the freedom of individuals to be who they are and follow their personal dreams is curtailed
Democracy, the antidote to authoritarian rule, runs on dialogue, persuasion and accommodation. To participate fully requires an attitude of civility, respect, humility. A recognition we are all human and lacking in knowledge, wisdom and foresight. But if we draw on our collective strength, we have the possibility of muddling through and sometimes doing great things.