I haven’t written much on the current political deadlock in the US because I find that the whole mess tends to do bad things to my blood pressure. In addition, given that it’s a pretty central story to just about every news conduit every second right now, there are some far, far better wordsmiths than I weighing in. For example, Jim Wright has a truly excellent, civil, even-handed, and logical article over on his Stonekettle Station blog. There are body parts I would sacrifice or exchange if I could write that well.
Nevertheless, today a couple of thoughts came together in my brain that I need to put out there for discussion.
First, one of my all-time favorite plays, musicals, and movies is “1776“. We studied it in high school in 1971 or 1972 and I was enthralled. There was talk of our school doing it as our senior play and I was ready to just nail the part of John Adams. (We eventually did “Harvey” instead and I played Dr. Chumley.) I can still do whole sections of “1776” at the drop of a hat. If I see it being done live anywhere here in LA, I’m there.
A line from John Adams’ opening soliloquy has been widely quoted during the current (and previous) Congressional deadlocks:
“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress. And by God, I have had this Congress!”
You won’t get an argument from me.
Secondly, today I read probably the 100th news story quoting a member of the Republican “Suicide Caucus” (a term coined by Pulitzer Prize-winning, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer) justifying what they’re doing as follows – while a huge majority of Americans may think that what they’re doing is completely deplorable and despicable, their constituents from back in their (gerrymandered) districts are telling them to fight on, stay the course, keep doing what is perceived back in the district as the right thing.
With that article still rattling around in my head, I started humming something from “1776”. I thought about a scene late in the movie, just before the July 4th vote is taken on the Declaration of Independence. In this scene, a Congressional Congress delegate who has been instructed by his constituents to vote against independence instead changes his vote to what he believes is right, i.e., approval of the Declaration and freedom from England.
During this scene, a quote from British Parliamentarian Edmund Burke is given as a key part of the logic and thought process behind the change in his vote. I went and found the exact quote, from Burke’s 1774 Speech to the Electors at Bristol at the Conclusion of the Poll (section 4.1.22 – worth reading the whole section even if you don’t read the whole speech):
“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Let’s think about that for a minute, current 2013 members of the House of Representatives.
You repeatedly claim that you’re taking these actions, as harmful and damaging as they are, because the folks back home who elected you are telling you that’s what they want? That’s really your story? That’s really your justification?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” is causing serious damage to huge sections of the country?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” is a real threat to put the country right back into another recession, or worse?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” has a legitimate chance of causing incredible damage to the entire world’s economy?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” can destroy the United States’ position as a world power?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” is a corruption of the US Constitution, not a defense of it?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” is insane?
What if “what they’re telling you to do” is treason?
(For the moment we’ll overlook the question of whether “what they’re telling you to do” is actually what they’re telling you to do, or just what some multi-billionaire, ultra conservative campaign contributors are telling you to do.)
In researching the Burke quote, I was surprised to find several sources referring to Burke as one of the philosophical fathers of modern conservative thought. It was also fascinating to find that Burke thought as he did because he believed that the common masses would be slaves to emotional and impassioned impulses, while a governing body of the elite upper class would be able to make rational, unbiased decisions when governing.
I’m open to the judgement that we could be doing that part wrong, also.
Let’s assume that the current conservative factions in our government would or should listen to the philosophy of one of the founders of their movement. Let’s assume that the current representatives are sane and intelligent, able to make rational, unbiased decisions. Let’s assume that they take seriously their responsibilities to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”.
Given those assumptions, how in the world can the “Suicide Caucus” justify their current actions based on the argument that “the folks back home are telling us to do it?” Would Burke clearly not demand that the representatives do what is right (based on reasoning and logic) instead of what the masses instruct them to do (based on uninformed or uneducated bias and impulsiveness)?
Conversely, if Burke is wrong and the “Suicide Caucus’s” responsibility is to either pass laws that their constituents demand or work to hold the entire country hostage, would they use the current legislative tactics if “the folks back home” had other extreme views?
What if the folks back home thought that women shouldn’t vote?
What if the folks back home thought that blacks shouldn’t vote, or even be granted citizenship?
What if the folks back home thought that only those born in the United States of US parents should have citizenship?
What if the folks back home thought that only property owners should be able to vote?
What if the folks back home thought that only approved Christian churches should be allowed, not Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, or any other?
Would any of these Representatives ever dream of blackmailing the entire country and holding the economy hostage over any of those extreme issues? If not, why do they think it’s somehow ethical, just, and justifiable to do that over the ACA, which is the law of the land after having been debated for years, modified, compromised, passed by Congress, challenged, ruled constitutional by a conservative Supreme Court, and given a mandate by the 2012 national elections?
The logic isn’t there – but we all know that. The question at this point is how we get the Congressional leaders to bother listening to their own founders, and be sane and intelligent enough to understand what he was telling them.
If only it were that easy.