I have not published anything on this blog in many months, but tonight seemed historical somehow. The events of the last week lead me to conclude that there are those whose view of the state of our nation is not just different from mine, but radically different. The events of the last week bespeak a perspective where the ends justify the means. I can only conclude that there are large swaths of our country that see the world in a way that I have difficulty imagining. This conflict over the Affordable Care Act has laid bare the polarization that plagues our country. Yet, in my heart, I don’t believe that the individuals who comprise our populace are so different from me. Confronted with injustice, the individual American seeks to right a wrong. When faced with families struggling to make ends meet, most Americans want to help. Only in the abstract do we lose our humanity. The ideological fight pits us against the stereotype, the nameless loafer, the free-loading benefits collector, the racist extremist. Demonizing abstract figures comes easily. Our radio and TV hosts figured this out long ago. Those demagogues simplify the stakes of the game. Good guys versus the bad guys. Political philosophy neatly packaged and backed up with emotionally charged assumptions that are preached as truth. This appeals to those who seek confirmation of the views they wish to hold and those whose powers of reasoning are too tired to challenge these tirades. We all want the world to fit neatly into a box that is predictable, understandable and conforming to the truths we hold dear. But these yearnings leave us susceptible to suasion. And as I have watched the clock tick down to a government shutdown, I think that that demagogues have done their jobs too well. The congregation of radio faithful do believe! The words tossed into those microphones, spoken again and again, criticizing, convincing, confirming the philosophies held dear have finally borne fruit. The converted are now acting on their beliefs, and their actions now control their legislators.
But I think they have done their jobs too well. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the boomerang of a conservative tirade is now reaching the Congressional coastline, an irrational tsunami of discontent. The rules that have given predictability and strength to our government have been cast aside as the righteousness of a cause demands that rules be ignored.
It would seem I need to reconsider my view of how government works. Laws are no longer really laws. The will of the people, as expressed and voted by their representatives in accordance with our Constitution, can be frustrated. Thus, no law is really law. The government, the markets, the financial well-being of the world can be upended by a disenchanted minority. Have we really reached this point? Is a law whose aim is to afford health care to as many people as possible really the source of such discontent, or is it a lightning rod for something deeper?
Throughout history ideas have been proven good or bad. The future implementation of the Affordable Care Act will determine in which category it belongs, but the conduct of the House over the last week suggests that the rules of the game have changed. A passionate minority now seems committed to the idea that their ideas justify extraordinary, unprecedented means. I disagree. The strength of our system and our value to this world hinge upon a willingness to advocate your ideas within a framework that ultimately produces an outcome. The drafters of our system carefully constructed a process that strived to protect against the extreme. If an idea makes it through this process, then it deserves allegiance if not respect. Laws have meaning. A group of legislators in the House now seem willing to adopt a new set of rules that opens our system to ambiguity. If one chamber of one Branch of our Government can effectively rescind a law, then the framework of our Government is at risk.
I don’t want to risk that framework. If the Government must be shut down to bring this to a head, then so be it. We need an electorate that focuses, even for just a few days, on these events. This House of Representatives has put ideology before duty. As bad as they may think the Affordable Care Act is, and as horrible as they believe the consequences may be, our system will allow such horrors to be addressed. But these legislators know that. They understand how laws are passed and how they can be changed. So, in my mind, this is not really about protecting us all against the horrors of the ACA. There are pathways to accomplish that end. Something more fundamental is underway. This shutdown marks the first real skirmish in the battle for the soul of our country. So for those of you who have been on the sidelines, it may be time to suit up.