Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Consent of the Governed

Today, according to reports, the president will announce that he is going for "reconciliation," the tactic of passing his huge ObamaCare reform through the Congress by a method that is intended to reconcile budget disagreements between the two houses of Congress.

Some have said that in doing this, the president "crosses the Rubicon," after the famous act of Julius Caesar in marching his army across that river in his march on Rome.

The Wall Street Journal edit page calls his act simply "An Abuse of Power."

But I would say that it goes beyond that. In trying to force their unpopular bill through Congress the Democrats show that they misunderstand the whole point of constitutional government and democratic politics.

And that point is encapsulated in the first great document of the American founding, the Declaration of Independence. Here is what it says.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

When the Government so instituted passes legislation clearly without the consent of the governed, then you have a pre-revolutionary situation. You have a situation in which some people will say that the Government has abrogated its right to exercise its powers because they are no longer just.

The whole point of the "consent of the governed" and "limited government" is to curb the instincts of the Government to assume that the governing elite knows best, and to govern accordingly: to deny that the government can be no better than the people it governs.

It's a temptation that all elites have, and our modern "educated elite" is no different that any other aristocracy. (We are using the term in a non-pejorative mode meaning "the best.") They think they know best and they are determined to give it to us.

Well, the whole point of modern democracy is that the governing elite has to persuade the ordinary person of its policies. That is why we normally agree that great reforms should only be enacted when there is a general consensus that it should be enacted. That is why most presidents try to pass legislation with a bipartisan majority. It lets them argue that the legislation was not a partisan cram-down but the consensus of the governed.

In the United States today we talk about a 50-50 nation. We mean by that two great factions, liberal and conservative, that want to take the nation in different directions. In the middle is the great mass of people that aren't sure that they like either road.

In this 50-50 nation the chances are that any effort by either conservatives or liberals to try an end run around the opposition is going to create enormous opposition. We saw how liberals ginned up a vocal opposition to President Bush on the view that the consensus he had created for the Iraq War was false. They argued that the consensus to go into Iraq was built upon a lie--that the Bush administration assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was a lie.

Now, we do not know whether the Bush administration knew beforehand whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But our liberal friends acted as though he did.

Imagine therefore the rage that will be built up by conservatives against the Obama administration if it proceeds with its health care reform without a consensus, without even a manufactured consensus, without even the fig-leaf of a consensus built upon a lie.

From a strictly partisan viewpoint I love this. The only way you make progress in politics is when your side is all riled up and the opposition is demoralized. A cram-down on ObamaCare creates the once-in-a-generation opportunity for a real change in national political orientation towards the conservative side.

But I fear that the heightened partisan conflict will lead to dark days for America. If we get a big change in the November elections, say with up to 100 seats changing hands in the House of Representatives, we will enter an era unlike anything since the years immediately before the Civil War.

A big change in Congress would set up the opportunity for real reform of the welfare state. Confronted with such reforms, I fear that our liberal friends will not go quietly. Their welfare state, their privileges, their subsidies, their sinecures are not just the spoils of political success. They are the liberal religion, their belief system. To take their religion and their sacred symbols away from them is not just relieving a thief of ill-gotten goods. It is to take away from liberals the very meaning of life.

That's when people do desperate things.

That's why I think it is a great tragedy that President Obama and the Democratic leaders of Congress are going for it and trying to pass a massive reorganization of one sixth of the economy in a straight partisan vote. They are setting in motion events that could utterly change the face of America, in ways that we cannot imagine.

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