One of the worst things that the Tea Party has done is push the championing of an uncompromising legislative branch in the name of liberty. Sadly, all too many politicians have fallen for this dangling carrot of immediate gratification at the eventual expense of democracy.
Extremists complain that politicians compromise too much and that nothing gets done in congress. But of course, democracies are slower and more complicated than autocracies by nature and inherent in this fact is the protection of liberty from the hands of a dictator.
As former House member Lee H. Hamilton (D-IN) wrote in his book “How Congress Works and Why You Should Care”, Congress acts “as the people’s voice against unchecked power [;] it is the guarantor of liberty.” We should qualify this statement as “congress should act” instead of it does act as the voice against unchecked power. He wrote his book long before the Tea Party came to Washington.
Hamilton, who served in the House from 1965-1999, talks about the importance of consensus building in the legislative process and how congress works to provide balance with the federal government. Hamilton stresses the necessity of compromise, listening and coalition building within the body. He also finds plenty of fault with it, but urges citizens to work to improve it rather than give up on it.
Hamilton is also the co-chair of the United States Institute of Peace. This should matter to those who claim peace to be a value; after all, negotiating like terrorists and an executive branch that operates like George W Bush are antithetical to the values of peace and yet this is what too many liberals clamor for, perhaps unwilling to examine the results of such unilateral executive power.
Justice and peace are the results of democracy, not autocracy. If we cry for the immediate results of an autocrat while at the same time claiming to value global justice, we are not serving our cause as best as we could. Ameliorative ambition is no excuse for a Machiavellian execution of process.
Ironically, the more educated one is about the actual legislative process of congress the less cynical one tends to be about government. Cynicism is a goal of the right, as it leads to smaller voter turnout and allows them to present privatizing government as the solution to government’s seeming ineptitude.
This is a vitally important distinction; for cynicism passes for educated opinion but is actually the common refuge of the uninformed and a scourge on democracy as it creates less engaged citizens and lends unearned credence to uninformed populist opinions. Think of the Tea Party screaming about Socialism in public spaces; the echo of the unknowing is too vast to invite discourse.
This is not to suggest that there aren’t problems worthy of outrage and demands for change, but cynicism is never the agent of change; rather it is the agent of lethargy and bitterness. The Occupy movement isn’t sitting around damning everyone in government from their expensive studio; they are out in the cold, actively engaging in raising the voices of the people. There is no less cynical act than that, for it represents hope and belief in democracy even as it expresses criticism of the government and the system.
The Tea Party’s Koch funded rage against compromise is part of the problem, not the solution. And while the left has a point that the Republicans are negotiating like terrorists, approaching the legislative process in a consensus building manner rather than a hostage taking style is the right thing to do. When that consensus approach is met by hijacking and economic terrorism, and the leaders can put their feet down without causing undue harm to the American people, they must do so.
If you find yourself arguing with an ideologue who is more invested in cynicism than in really changing things, it’s also a tip off that they don’t really understand or value the tenets of democracy. They want a win for “their side” (the morally “right” side, naturally) at any cost and through any measure; an ends justify the means attitude that will be the death of democracy.
The real dangers to democracy are greedy ideological extremism and lack of respect for consensus building on both sides of the aisle. Tea Party jihads against compromise are not the solution; true liberty can only be found in balanced, checked powers. Balanced power may not be sexy, but its quiet beauty it is the subject of great envy around the world. We note that even a conservative, activist judicial branch as the current Supreme Court put limits on George W Bush’s dictatorial power grabs and in this kernel of truth, we ought to be amazed at the brilliance of our system of government. Ideologues have won numerous costly battles, but they have not won the war against democracy.
We note that the Right worships at the altar of the conservative authoritarian dictator, but doesn’t feel that a Democrat should have any power even though they were elected by the people. These are flimsy values that don’t hold up under scrutiny.
The only reason the right gets away with this is that no Democratic president has embraced the expansion of the executive office in order to come after their pet ideas, save for Bill Clinton’s foray into regulating what Bush Sr deregulated. If they had to face their “values” in a consistent manner, they would run in terror toward true democracy. But if they were forced to face their values in a consistent manner, it would mean that Democrats were operating against the liberal principles of consensus building that are the very foundation of our system of government.
When we cherry pick our causes, and in the name of freedom demand a dictator only for our causes, we are a part of the problem. Hatred of compromise is endemic of the small-minded, bombastic egotism that threatens this country more than any single person, outdone only by the corporate money and fascist agenda of the far right.
Luckily, in the collective movement of Occupy USA, we see a refusal to elevate individual egos and instead, a commitment to the cause first. They may appear cynical in their anger at the system, but their actions are the opposite of cynicism. Radical action requires idealism and belief in the very tenets of democracy. Radical action is the opposite of arm chair anarchism.
Occupiers demonstrated their tenacious hope in their December 23 flipboard action in New York, in which they held signs that read: “Occupy Everywhere,” “We Aren’t Going Anywhere” and “Another World is Possible.”
Occupy exemplifies how citizens are meant to impact and drive consensus building. Occupy has shifted the political dialogue away from catering to the so called “job creators” to an on-going discussion about economic justice. Their persistence has led to high-level politicians acknowledging their message and using it in the policy debate about tax breaks for the middle class funded by taxes on the 1%.
Criticizing your government in an active manner meant to cause further engagement of other citizens is an act of love for your country, while feeding the festering cynicism of the post-Nixon and Bush eras with more misinformation about how congress actually works and fantasies of superman exercising unilateral power from the White House only serves to kill citizen engagement. An active citizenry will not tolerate a congress beholden to Grover Norquist’s tax pledge or the Koch brothers, nor will they sit idly by while elected representatives refuse to participate in the congressional process of compromise, meant to serve all of the people, not just a few.
The extremist House Tea Party caucus is attempting to eclipse Congressional process and indeed the Executive branch via tyranny of the majority instead of serving as a body of political compromise.
The Tea Party version of congress is the death knell to liberty. Liberals should rise up in anger against the denigration of the legislative process and pay close attention to those in congress who seek to run congress like Bush ran the executive branch. And lastly, liberals need to be vigilant against the notion that the executive office can and should override congress in order to fulfill their whims, lest we betray the foundations of the constitutional process as the right has in serving their extremist agenda to benefit the few.
Image: OKbar.org, Second Grade Winner Hailey Brown, Empire Elementary, Duncan