America holds onto an undemocratic assumption from its founding: that some people deserve more power than others

By | August 18, 2019

Jamelle Bouie writes:

If you want to understand American politics in 2019 and the strain of reactionary extremism that has taken over the Republican Party, a good place to start is 2011: the year after a backlash to Barack Obama’s presidency swept Tea Party insurgents into Congress, flipping control of the House.

It was clear, at the start of that year, that Congress would have to lift the debt ceiling — the limit on bonds and other debt instruments the government issues when it doesn’t have the revenues to fulfill spending obligations. These votes were often opportunities for grandstanding and occasionally brinkmanship by politicians from both parties. But it was understood that, when push came to shove, Congress would lift the limit and the government would pay its obligations.

2011 was different. Congressional Republicans, led by the new Tea Party conservatives, wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and make other sharp cuts to the social safety net. But Democrats controlled the Senate and the White House. So House Republicans decided to take a hostage. “I’m asking you to look at a potential increase in the debt limit as a leverage moment when the White House and President Obama will have to deal with us,” said the incoming majority leader, Eric Cantor, at a closed-door retreat days before the session began, according to The Washington Post. Either the White House would agree to harsh austerity measures or Republicans would force the United States to default on its debt obligations, precipitating an economic crisis just as the country, and the world, was beginning to recover from the Great Recession.

The debt-limit standoff was a case study of a fundamental change within the Republican Party after Obama took office in 2009. Republicans would either win total victory or they would wreck the system itself. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, used a variety of procedural tactics to effectively nullify the president’s ability to nominate federal judges and fill vacancies in the executive branch. In the minority, he used the filibuster to an unprecedented degree. In the majority, after Republicans won the Senate in the 2010 midterm elections, he led an extraordinary blockade of the Supreme Court, stopping the Senate from even considering the president’s nominee for the bench.

Where did this destructive, sectarian style of partisan politics come from? Conventional wisdom traces its roots to the “Gingrich Revolution” of the 1990s, whose architect pioneered a hardball, insurgent style of political combat, undermining norms and dismantling congressional institutions for the sake of power. This is true enough, but the Republican Party of the Obama years didn’t just recycle its Gingrich-era excesses; it also pursued a policy of total opposition, not just blocking Obama but also casting him as fundamentally illegitimate and un-American. He may have been elected by a majority of the voting public, but that majority didn’t count. It didn’t represent the “real” America. [Continue reading…]

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