Gary Wisenbaker Blog
Gary Wisenbaker
The Political Realities of Handwringing
Why the partial shutdown was foreseeable from 200 years away

The often misunderstood nature of politics in a political city


What with all the handwringing over the recent 12 business day shutdown of 18% of the federal government one would think that the American people were somehow betrayed by those quarrelsome politicians.  Why, had those ultra-conservatives (there’s no such thing as an ultra-liberal, you know) simply buckled under and ignored their constituencies the calamity could have been avoided.

Unlike 1995 when a newly elected GOP congress stared down the White House over the issues of Medicare, education, and the environment, this fracas revolved around spending and Obamacare.  It’s worth remembering that the overreach by the Clinton Administration in proposing Hillarycare, the 1993 healthcare overhaul that also sought to bring one sixth of the US economy under federal government control, cost the Democrats control of the House, something that hadn’t happened in 40 or so years.  

The grassroots passion against such a reach by the federal government is reflected in every public opinion poll even today.  The difference between now and 20 years ago is that then President Clinton knew he had absolutely no bipartisan backing (or public support for that fact) for such an initiative and he withdrew it. One can only conjecture that once his administration realized the paucity of support, they knew ramming through such transformative legislation would not be good for the country.  Perhaps having been a governor gave Clinton a certain insight that is so lacking in today’s chief executive.

The current ruckus, and it’ll be back in January, is a direct and proximate result of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi troika’s unilateral action in passing Obamacare.  They didn’t care about a consensus bill.  So eager were the proponents to pass it that they didn’t even know how it would affect the people or the economy, or what was even in it (per Pelosi) when they passed it on strictly partisan votes in both houses.

They still don’t understand, even now as the wheels are coming off the Obamacare bus, why anyone would still oppose it.  The disingenuous claim is that it passed both houses of congress (again, without any Republican support), was signed into law and even ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court.  Well, so it was, but so was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. 

Win an election, Obama lectures, and change offensive policy.  That was done after Obamacare was passed when the GOP took the House and it happened again in 2012 when the GOP kept the House.  He’s forgotten the basics of our constitutional government.  Ours is not a “winner take all” system.  

The Founding Fathers’ view of government was remarkable for any age.  James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all envisioned a government of checks and balances.  This is achieved through the genius of a bicameral legislature (a House and Senate), an executive with veto power and a supreme court to act as referee.  

Adams was an early proponent of a divided government with enumerated powers, especially the two chamber legislature because he saw mischief should it be composed of only one chamber.  He feared a single house would develop unbridled power and, hence, have a propensity toward tyranny.  The lower chamber would be the “people’s assembly”, the one closest to the citizens.  The upper would be a step removed, one originally elected by the state legislatures, to look after broader interests. 

The idea was that the majority of either house would have to deal with its minority and deal with each other in passing legislation.  The idea, as Obama is so fond of saying, is that “elections mean something.”  Indeed they do: they mean that majorities don’t run roughshod over minorities.

And the Founders knew this.  All three, and other leaders at the time of the drafting of our Constitution, aimed to create power centers within the federal government.  These power centers create friction over public policy.  Resolving that friction is called the political process, and as George Will recently opined (“What Madison Wanted”), the political process requires an ability to engage and compromise. Where there is patience and good faith, a public policy emerges that meets the differing needs and expectations. By this analysis, Will concluded, maybe there’s not enough politics in Washington.  And by that analysis, George Will is right.

The American Experiment has succeeded because Americans fight.  We fight against powers abroad that seek to harm us externally.  Americans fight against powers within that seek to harm us internally.  And we fight politically.  It is this last conflict with which we weave the tapestry of our national resolve and cohesion.   

Had those promoting the healthcare legislation pursued it in a manner consistent with other historical transformational legislation, Social Security, for example, a consensus may well have emerged.  As it wasn’t, that battle will be fought for some time to come.  Like “physical” football teams, there will be “political” elections to decide the issue.  

So, enough with the handwringing.  This is what we do.

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© 2013 Gary M. Wisenbaker.  All rights reserved.
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