Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tyrannies of democratic Government

One of the most interesting commentaries on our political life came from an unusual place: a newspaper from Montana. A recent column in a Billings newspaper offers an interesting twist on the system of checks and balances in our Constitution. It also offers some perspective on the long game that constantly plays out between our two major political parties.

It's often necessary for me to clarify what separates Democrats and Republicans in the classroom. I shy away from using terms such as liberal and conservative in doing so. We're living in a time where there has been a lot of crossover between ideology and party identification. But that's fleeting. Is Republican President Donald Trump really all that conservative? And, if Democrats are fighting to defend the Affordable Care Act, the status quo really, then aren't they essentially playing the role of conservative. Okay, I'm getting away from the point here. Let me wrap up this thought, though, by simply saying that as a teacher it's not as helpful as one might think to conflate conservativism and liberalism with the Ds and Rs.

So, what unifies the parties over time? My favorite way to simplify it is to suggest that Democrats believe government should reflect the will of the majority. Meanwhile Republicans wish to defend the country from a tyranny of the majority. This is a debate as old as the country itself, as old as Tea floating in the Harbor, and best articulated in the debates over the ratification of our Constitution.

I think it's important to note that the article from that Billings newspaper never uses the word "minority" adjacent to the word "rule." "Minority rule" has such an ugly connotation, and I don't read that into Mr. Darby's essay. And I don't consider the Republicans evil or un-American for trying to work within the boundaries of the Constitution to prevent the will of the majority from depriving Americans of their liberties. Political parties exist to win elections.

Republicans enjoy control of both house of Congress, the White House, and many state legislatures for a variety of reasons. Objectively, their success in redrawing Congressional boundaries to make Republican success in House elections has played a big role in that. Whether or not that's above board or dirty pool is a matter of debate. Their success there is symptomatic of a long-run approach to politics that has confounded their opponents. Democrats need to put their energies into the long game now.

A system featuring two powerful parties plays an important role, and Democrats cannot overlook that. Democrats, if they represent the will of the majority, need to do a better role in selling voters as to the merits of less splashy matters such as Congressional redistricting, voter registration, and funding for local services. The Democrats' job in our democracy is to mobilize democracy. The Republicans' job is to enforce boundaries to Americans' liberty.

Both jobs are essential. How do we know? Just look at the concerns and problems that occur whenever one party gets too good at its job.