Right wing talks about democracy, doesn’t believe in it

October 1, 2013

In 1943, with World War II still raging, writer E.B. White was asked to explain what democracy is.

His answer was surprising: “It is the line that forms on the right,” he began. “It is the don’t in ‘Don’t Shove.’”

Then he came to the most oft-quoted line: “It is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time.”

That was it. A suspicion. That was why we were fighting. That was why America drafted millions of men and sent them overseas. Hundreds of thousands of those soldiers never returned home.

The quote has stayed with me, not because it was such a clarion call in defense of democracy, but, rather, because it wasn’t.

In Germany, fascists fought to create a thousand-year reich, administered by what they believed to be a superior race.

Elsewhere, communists called on workers with that resounding line, “You have nothing to lose but your chains.”

In America, we suspected democracy was better. It’s not much of a rallying cry, but counter-intuitively, it was that lack of certainty that has made us stronger.

Americans, suspecting that the majority was right more than half the time, were able to work together, defeating first the Nazis on the literal battlefield and later the communists on the economic battlefield.

I’m optimistic enough to think we’ll get through our present troubles, but - here on the brink of a government shutdown - I’m struck by how hard-line Republicans no longer believe in democracy.

Oh sure, they say they do. They say they believe in America and democracy and the U.S. Constitution. But in practice, they don’t.

In 2008, Obama made health insurance the centerpiece of his domestic agenda. He won the election. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president.

In 2012, Obamacare was declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Later that year, with health insurance again a focus of the campaign, Obama won a second term.

Now, in 2013, Republicans are demanding, in effect, that the results of the last two presidential elections be nullified. If their demands are not met, if Obama doesn’t cave and delay the beginning of the Affordable Care Act, they will force the federal government, for lack of money, to begin shutting down.

They are also demanding their way on a host of financial and environmental issues. It’s as if they’re trying to win by blackmail what they lost by the ballot box.

The shutdown would have widespread effects. National parks and museums might close; citizens might not be able to get passports; soldiers, already sacrificing on our behalf, might not get paid on time.

Amazingly enough, this is only the beginning. Republicans are also threatening not to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17. This could have disastrous consequences. The federal government could default.

The certainty that the federal government will pay its bills serves as one of the underpinnings of the U.S. and the world economy.

No one knows exactly what would happen if the federal government decides not to pay its bills, but economists fear it could wreak havoc on an already struggling economy.

During the 2012 campaign, Republican nominee Mitt Romney said of 47 percent of the electorate, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Romney was criticized for the comment, because it showed contempt for nearly half the U.S. population, but, really, for the Republican right wing, the only thing their nominee was guilty of was low-balling.

The Tea Partiers will take that 47 percent and raise it by - who knows - 10, 20, 30 percentage points?

They don’t believe in democracy. They don’t suspect that more than half of Americans are right more than half the time. They know they’re right all the time. And they’re willing to risk economic Armageddon for all if they don’t get their way.

What has happened to the party of Bill Roth, whom I voted for more than once? In his day, he was considered a genuine conservative, with the voting record to prove it. He wouldn’t be now, but that says more about the Tea Party-driven Republican Party than it does about Roth.

It’s time for the Tea Partiers to have the courage of their convictions and form their own party.

They can start right here in Sussex County. And if they could persuade more than half the people to vote for them, I might even begin to suspect they’re right.

(And yes, I will get to the latter part of the Steve Smyk interview next week.)

  • A number of accomplished writers will be appearing in the Politics column every Tuesday on a rotating basis to explore the dynamic world of politics at the local, county, state, national and world levels.

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