WAMC For Oct. 17, 2013
Dr Steven Leibo is the Sage Colleges Professor of International History & Politics
I have been thinking a lot about Poland lately. No, not the modern one, not the one that was reborn less than a hundred years ago in the aftermath of World War I, But Poland of the 18th century. The one that lost its way — eventually finding itself gobbled up by more decisive neighbors, more specifically that earlier Polish government that included that included a most curious legislative gimmick that 17th century Polish aristocrats probably thought was a nifty way to demonstrate their equality. It was called the Liberum Veto, a simple rule that granted every single Polish aristocrat the right to stop the Polish parliament from passing legislation that even one among them opposed. Ok, not surprisingly, it was practically impossible to accomplish anything and played a role in the collapse of the once powerful Polish commonwealth of the earlier 18th century, a nation later ripped apart by those more decisive neighbors from Russia to the Austrians.
And yes, Poland eventually managed to win its freedom again but it might have never lost control of its fate had it not succumbed to the tyranny of the minority a lesson Americans might well make their own given the absurdity of the last two weeks. After all, how much longer can we remain a decisive democracy when the core principal of democracy, majority rule can be so easily thwarted undermined by the very people who claim to admire the founding fathers, indeed, folks who ever so often act as if they are the only people who have read the constitution. And yet continue to support absurd congressional rules that constantly deny our nation the ability to act both democratically and decisively.
I mean let’s get real here – a rule in the senate that says if 41 senators don’t like something agreed to by the majority, by the other 59 senators, we can’t pass anything. And in the house, a leader who has been willing to bow to the radical minority of the chamber that decided to shut down our entire government – decided to put both the nation’s economy and the country’s international financial integrity on the line because they did not like a bill that already passed the house, the senate, the supreme court, and the president signed!
Ok, I get it, they don’t like the Affordable Care Act. They don’t think it is important that Americans reject a system that has long defined what health care we get based largely on our education, wealth and employment. But don’t they understand that there are issues even more important, like having a functioning government. And unless we change those stupid post constitutional rules, demanding the super majority in the senate, letting a tiny minority in the House hold up the nation’s business we are going to start down that path that once saw Poland lose its freedom.
And enough of all this sympathy for Speaker Boehner, The man should be impeached, impeached for acting is if he were the republican majority leader responsible only to the republican members in the house. Rather than leader of all the representatives elected by the American people. In fact, his behavior in the opinion of this commentator that makes him a good candidate for impeachment for pandering, in the name of what?… of keeping his job? Pandering to a bunch of people who have demonstrated their complete ignorance of democracy that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you compromise and wait for the next election. But you don’t bring down the entire government because you lost a round. Yes, If we are going to bow to the whims of the minority, folks who can not even muster enough votes to win their battles fairly.
Maybe we should just go back to the ultimate minority rule, some British king or just cut out all the middle men and let the Tea Party’s real backers, ignorant media blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and plutocrats like the Koch brothers just run the country And stop pretending to be a democracy at all
Let me see if I have this right. A couple of dozen radical Tea Party conservatives in the House of Representatives have brought our entire government to a standstill trying to stop a law, the Affordable Care Act that already passed the House of Representatives, a law that already passed the senate, that the president already signed and the Supreme Court considers constitutional?
There has got to be something more going on here. I mean, this is insane. Are they really disrupting our government over a done deal, an effort to make health care more accessible for the millions that don’t have it. I suppose I could just fall back on my experiences last summer in China, when as a visiting professor in Gansu province I lectured on the idea of democracy that so many of them crave.
But of course I was forced to explain that democracy is just a method of selection. That democracy in itself does not guarantee good government, wise leaders, capable of making wise choices.
Yes, sadly I reminded my Chinese audience that we elect idiots all the time. Though I am sure many had already noticed that. And yes democracy does have one fine feature. it does makes it easier to get rid of such people.
But as I told my large Chinese audience good government in itself does not come pre-packaged along with popularly elected leaders. But maybe I am just getting too conspiracy minded in my old age. Because over the last few days I can’t help wondering if something else is going on. Maybe our tea party congressional friends are more Machiavellian then they appear.
Maybe the issue is not whether they want everyone to have access to health care. Maybe it’s not because they can not accept the national vote from two different presidential elections that confirmed the decision to advance toward universal health care. Maybe the issue this week was not about Obama care at all, but the date—about the importance of distracting the easily distracted American electorate?
Because, I should remind my listeners that this week was long scheduled to be about something else -because this was the week when the planet’s scientific community was long scheduled to give the world an update on how drastically we have, with our rampant burning of fossil fuel upset the entire planetary heat balance making more extreme storms, Colorado like fires and floods, literally storms on steroids from Irene and Lee to Sandy more and more likely while devastating crops with searing heat in America’s heartland. And it makes sense. After all, those very same congressional republicans were just last week, holding what might be called the Denial Hearing, trying to convince themselves that the climate crisis was not real, an important task given how many of them are beholden to the very big money folks who got rich pushing fossil fuels.
No, maybe these congressional tea party types are just really cleaver, carrying out a conspiracy to keep Americans from noticing the new international scientific report on climate. Just maybe they are acting on a cynical ploy to distract the public from the necessity to back off from climate disrupting fossil fuels and toward greener energy sources with far greater urgency.
If that is so, they seem to have been wonderfully successful already. After all, by the time this mess is over, the American media, obsessed as it always is with today is hardly likely to turn back to .. “ah last week’s global scientific warning”
But maybe I am just too cynical. Maybe these tea party folks really don’t want everyone to have access to health care. Though I can’t help thinking that, given how great the impact is of climate change is on public health, all those unfamiliar diseases rushing toward us from the tropics made more welcome by rising temperatures. And all those new causalities caused by more powerful storms not forgetting the weakening of global nutritional needs as more and more crops fail we are going to need the affordable care act even more than ever.