I expect that no one here needs persuading that American democracy is in bad shape these days. Our democratic dysfunction can be shown in many ways, but I’ve lately been focusing on this one: the way the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have adopted a policy of killing every single bill the House passes on to them – regardless of their merits, and without so much as a hearing, much less a vote.
Some of those bills would have the support of big majorities of the American people. But no matter, the Republicans kill those bills along with the ones their base would largely oppose.
The Republicans could kill only the divisive ones, and bring the widely-supported ones to the floor. That would show respect for the desires of the people (the ones for whom the government is supposed to be of, for, and by). But by killing all of them, the Rs are showing that they don’t care a whit for “the will of the people.”
The Constitution is set up to provide a means – albeit filtered – for “We the people” to make choices together on what path to take into the future for ourselves and our children. But by refusing to allow votes even on potentially popular measures, the Republicans are deliberately frustrating the people’s will for their own partisan benefit.
And at the same time, they are blocking any chance for national progress.
Republicans blocked our national progress for eight years with Obama, obstructing everything they could get away with, regardless of its merits. And they’re continuing basically the same democracy-degrading strategy now in the U.S. Senate, under Mitch McConnell whose kill-them-all approach has led him to dub himself “the Grim Reaper.”
A betrayal of the nation, a betrayal of the spirit and purpose of the Constitution, a betrayal of the people. Dysfunctional democracy.
Options for the Virginia Democrats as They Take Power
All of which brings us to the present situation in Virginia, where the Democrats are about to take full control over the government. They now face the question of how to proceed.
One approach would be to enact everything they want passed that they’ve got the power to push through. (Those Republicans at the national level haven’t cared a whit about bi-partisan support – e.g. the judicial nominees that they jam down the Democrats’ throats.) Now that the Democrats presumably have the ability to enact whatever they want, should they use their muscle the same way the Republicans have?
On some issues, perhaps so.
With the climate crisis, for example, the need is so urgent, the stakes are so high – there’s so much that should have been done not yesterday or last year but years ago – that it seems only prudent to pass every measure that people in touch with reality would agree is sensible and appropriate. On such matters, where possible, overpower whatever opposition there may be.
But on a host of other issues, there’s another approach that might ultimately be more constructive—better in the long run both for Virginia, and for the Democrats: Namely, to pass every measure that’s supported by a substantial majority of Virginians. (Like maybe 60%. Or two-thirds.)
(And polls show that big majorities of Virginians support a number of measures that Democrats favor. See NOTE, below.)
That approach would simultaneously accomplish several things:
- It would draw a contrast between how the two parties use their power, particularly if the Democrats are adept at drawing attention to how the Republicans have been thwarting the people’s will (at both the national level and in Virginia—again, see NOTE). The people might absorb an important truth: if they want our political system to actually get good things accomplished, the people should take power away from Republicans (who make everything into a war, and who focus only on the struggle for power), and put it into the hands of the Democrats.
- It would put the Republicans into a bind: they could either join with the Democrats in supporting these big-majority measures, or they could put on full display both their “extremism” and their indifference to the “will of the people.”
- It would help people to grasp that, for all the ways that we as a people have become polarized, there are important areas of substantial agreement among the people. And that if we devote some attention to those areas – even while we may continue to have political battles elsewhere – we can take good steps forward into a better future for ourselves and our children.
And perhaps it could help usher in an era of more constructive democracy. Just think: If we – in Virginia and nationally — could enact even only those measures that big majorities of the people favor, how much further along we could be on a whole variety of issues. (Even on issues that divide us, there are also areas on which big majorities agree— enough so that real progress could be made.)
Note: From the Washington Post (of 10/7/10):
“Voters sided with Democrats on a range of issues on the front burner in Richmond this year, including gun control, with 83 percent saying they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors requiring background checks for all gun purchases and 67 percent saying the same about banning assault weapons.
“Seventy-six percent said they would be more likely to vote for someone who supports ratifying the federal Equal Rights Amendment, while 66 percent said they would be inclined to back a candidate who supports a $15 minimum wage.”