October 5, 2010

Grand opportunistic pandering

GOP manifesto hypocritically accuses Democrats of ignoring public opinion

In listing all that is wrong with America today, the GOP’s Pledge to America asserts, “An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down longstanding laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.” This statement contains a number of errors. Most obviously, there is the question of whether or not the Obama administration can be said to be “unchecked.” Beleaguered liberals have to ask here, on which of his major initiatives was President Obama fully able to get everything he wanted?

The passing of health care reform and financial regulation were both marked by numerous compromises on issues like the public option, not to mention the unprecedented number of Obama nominees to federal offices that the Republicans in Congress have successfully been able to block. The Republicans have a 19-seat deficit in the Senate and a 75-seat deficit in the House of Representatives. If a party so dramatically in the minority is able to affect the outcome of political negotiations in such a profound way, one has to wonder how the major issue facing Americans today is an unchecked executive.

Then there’s the issue of a compliant legislature. Here, the gulf between reality and the contents of the Pledge is even more extreme. According to Senate records, the 111th Congress has seen 123 motions for cloture in its term. This is almost twice the total of the 109th Congress, which was the last time Democrats were in the minority. Considering these facts, it’s simply absurd to assert that Congress is compliant or that President Obama’s power is unchecked. One can’t even argue that it’s just the Democrats who are overly compliant with the President’s wishes; the very threat of a filibuster by the opposition is enough to scare away the Congressional Democratic leadership from trying to pass a bill, while Democratic senators like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu practically fall over themselves trying to find excuses to disagree with their party. Simply put, the 111th Congress is the furthest thing from a rubber stamp for Obama’s policies.

But these are relatively minor points of contention with the sample of text above. Its content, which reverberates throughout the pledge, has to do with the government ignoring the demands and pleas of voters. There is something to this charge, but it seems that the pledge gets things exactly backward here. The public option, for example, was a widely supported plank of health care reform and it was the Republican opposition and the threat of a filibuster that kept it from being passed. How can Republicans really argue that Democrats scorn the beliefs of the American people and seek to thwart their will, when President Obama was the one who campaigned on a public option and the American people supported it during the debate over health care reform? Given that health care was the major political issue of the last Congress, this does not seem like a minor point.

There are other examples, of course; polls show that a significant majority of American voters favored financial regulation, as well as stronger efforts to combat global warming. Congressional efforts to combat global warming were rendered impossible by the Republican opposition. Then, clearly, if our government actually ignores the will of the people and seeks to “scorn the deepest beliefs of the American people,” the blame for that goes to a Republican Party that has little to no interest in respecting the majority will of the people whenever it conflicts with party ideology.

There’s something wonderfully ironic in a party platform that derides the inefficiency, incompetence, and lack of representation in a political body, when that party is the chief reason for those specific problems. If Republicans were truly concerned with the “transfer of power back to the people,” their main target would not be Speaker Pelosi, but rather the Senate filibuster, whose record use assures that any major piece of legislation has to have at least 60 votes in favor. The filibuster allows unpopular minority parties to control the debate over various issues, as well as whether or not anything significant gets passed. It was the threat of a filibuster which prevented the addition of the public option to healthcare reform and which prevented any sort of major consideration of environmental regulation.

For Republicans to complain about Washington ignoring the views and opinions of the American people and not talk about their own overuse of the filibuster takes serious chutzpah. I would never suggest that popular support necessarily means one policy is better than another. Nobody can truly believe this—especially not the Republicans who blocked the public option. But if the GOP wants to accuse Democrats of not respecting the will of the people and the values of the voting public, it at least has to acknowledge its refusal to follow the majority when it came to the public option, climate change, and financial regulation. To do anything less than that would simply be hypocrisy.

—Peter Ianakiev is a third-year in the College majoring in Political Science.