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With Democracy at Stake in Shutdown, GOP Looks to Score Points

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky

If you think House Republicans are sincere about their reasons for rejecting Obamacare, as the Affordable Health Care Act is known, you have another thing coming.

The gamesmanship couldn’t be any clearer, after a hot mic caught Republican Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul on Wednesday discussing how to turn the public attitude about the government shutdown to their advantage.

According to Politico, Paul suggested that Republicans strike a conciliatory tone on government funding, making Democrats appear unreasonable and resistant to compromise for saying they won’t alter Obamacare as a condition to vote on reopening the government.

“I think if we keep saying, ‘We wanted to defund it, we fought for that, but now we’re willing to compromise on this,’ Paul said. ‘I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re going to win this I think.’”

So the conversation is not about whether the plan really is bad for the economy, overall, and for some individual groups of Americans, specifically. It’s about scoring points and winning, above all else.

It’s also, according to some commentators, a threat to democracy.

“What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule,” Thomas Friedman wrote earlier this week in The New York Times.

By forcing a government shutdown and demanding changes in the Affordable Care Act, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party basically is trying to force the Obama administration to reverse a law that was passed by Congress, signed into law and upheld by the Supreme Court and affirmed, at least in part, by the president’s reelection.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘sour grapes.’

“When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled,” Friedman wrote.

The Republicans, of course, say they are merely seeking compromise and they hope to portray the president as unwilling to come to the table to help resolve the shutdown crisis. So the GOP is suggesting its hands are tied but they are willing and hopeful that negotiation is still possible.

The scary part is that this stalemate scenario could become all too common, Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said Thursday during a forum on civil rights at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism & Communication.

After the 2010 midterm elections turned many state legislatures over to Republican control, the lawmakers quickly set about reconfiguring political boundaries. They created numerous “safe,” overwhelmingly majority-white districts that guarantee the contests, Page said, will almost always be between conservative, white candidates.

So even though the nation, overall, is increasingly nonwhite, the average Republican House district is 75 percent white, compared to about 51 percent for the Democrats.

Additionally, the increasing compartmentalization of news makes it easier for readers, listeners and viewers to choose news programs that confirm their beliefs and biases. Further, the Supreme Court ruling allowing unlimited campaign contributions to political action committees makes it easier for candidates to buy ads and conduct other outreach to win their campaigns.

It also makes it easier for those with money to essentially buy an election, or at least influence its outcome in ways the average individual donor cannot.

“These ‘legal’ structural changes in money, media and redistricting are not going away. They are super-empowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule,” Friedman wrote. “If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process.”

Jackie Jones, a journalist and journalism educator, is director of the career transformation firm Jones Coaching LLC and author of “Taking Care of the Business of You: 7 Days to Getting Your Career on Track.”

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