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Democracy Only Works If You Use It

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer offers cautious praise for the health-care wars:

for all the hand-wringing about broken government, partisanship, divisiveness and gridlock, it’s hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform. . . So, in the middle of the current food fight, as the plates and the tarts and the sharper cutlery fly, step back for a moment. Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office.

All of the fighting, even the polarization, would be easier to hail if the Democrats were not sidestepping it. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are seeking to change the fundamental nature of the country, not by triumphing in rigorous debate, but rather by exploiting a procedural loophole that would allow them to act against the will of the people.

The citizens of this country have historically enjoyed a unique level of influence on their government. But we are now spectators before whom a cadre of floundering ideologues seeks to sever the trusts that make consensual governance consensual. The Democrats lost the public debate. Ask them if they care.

When Barack Obama’s approval ratings plunged months back, Fouad Ajami wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The curtain has come down on what can best be described as a brief un-American moment in our history.” If only that were so. In truth, the curtain came down on the public’s compliance with our un-American moment. For our current leaders, the mission goes forward. Plan B, it turns out, is as alien to the American experience as Plan A. Having failed to reshape our democracy through demagoguery, Obama is attempting to subvert it by decree. If he needs to dispense with the “we” in “yes we can,” so be it. The “our” in “our time is now”? Gone.

As the President and Nancy Pelosi have explained, they’re down to yes and now. Here’s how Pelosi recently described her health-care battle stance:

We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.

The barriers she cites are none other than the checks and balances, the procedural roadblocks, put in place centuries ago so that no lawmaker or executive could force policy upon the American people “for their own personal health and economic security.” Speaker Pelosi’s statement is not merely colorful evidence of tenacity and cunning. It is a contemptuous dismissal of democracy. Just as the plan for socialist annexation of one sixth of the economy is a dismissal of free-market capitalism.

If the fundamentals of our democratic republic remain intact, it will be because of the genius of the system of governance itself. Then, we can hail until the cows come home.



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