If our government were a card game, the American people would surely have realized by now that they’re playing with a marked deck. The Republicans are cheating.
In the 2012 elections, Democratic candidates for House seats collectively won about five percent more votes than their Republican opponents did overall. Yet the Republicans hung onto their control over the House of Representatives. They now outnumber Democrats in that chamber, 234 to 200.
How could that be?
Well, we’re not a pure democracy, and we were never meant to be. The Founders, in their wisdom, gave us a representative democracy, in which geographic areas, as well as people, have a voice in government.
But this is ridiculous.
Republican state legislatures, mainly in the former Confederate and western states, have gerrymandered their congressional districts to make it virtually impossible for Democrats to achieve House representation commensurate with their support.
You would think that would be enough for them, right? Wrong.
House Speaker John Boehner has said that he won’t let the immigration reform bill come to the floor for consideration unless it has the support of a majority of the Republican caucus. That means just 118 members (read tea partiers) wield a virtual veto over anything President Barack Obama, the Senate, or simply the majority of House members want to do.
That’s not representative democracy, that’s political bullying. All of which would be bad enough if the Republicans actually wanted to do something. But they don’t, unless you count cutting taxes until the government dies of starvation. Hard as it is to believe, the true believers in the Republican Party, the Paul Ryans and Rand Pauls of the world, believe that we’d all be better off if we stopped relying on government for things — those frills like health care, public schools, and safe food — and threw ourselves on the tender mercies of multi-national corporations that, as we know, care deeply about our well-being.
Obama gave a rip-roaring speech at Knox College the other day in which he listed his legislative priorities for the coming three years. He wants to build prosperity by expanding the middle class through education, re-training, and job creation. He would undertake a public works program to repair our broken infrastructure. He would fund research and development programs to keep us competitive in the world. He would, in short, do the common-sense things that every Democratic president of the past 80 years has promised to do.
The Republicans treated the proposals with absolute derision. He would do none of those things, they said. They wouldn’t let him. Instead, they threatened to shut down the government if Obama went ahead with his health care plan. In addition, they drafted legislation to cut the Environmental Protection Agency by 34 percent, kill greenhouse gas regulations, reduce financing for the Fish and Wildlife Service by 27 percent, and halve the Endowment for the Humanities budget.
Other proposed Republican bills would eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and cut education grants to poor students by 16 percent.
GOP lawmakers are saving their biggest guns, however, for their continued assault on the Affordable Care Act — which seems to be working despite Republican claims that it isn’t. Republican leaders have sent out a letter announcing their intention to block raising the debt ceiling on September 30 if so much as one penny is spent on implementing Obama’s landmark health care law. When asked whether he’s worried about how this do-nothing stance could hurt his party, Boehner declared that Congress “ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”
Let’s review: Republican leaders refuse to acknowledge or do anything to deal with climate change and are dead set against expanding health care coverage for the uninsured and underinsured, improving the regulation of financial institutions, supporting research, expanding public works, and respecting our public cultural institutions.
Their vision of the nation looks like a gated community in a rich area of Florida, surrounded by slums. And the rest of us? We’re in those slums.
By Donald Kaul
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.