THE BLOG
09/29/2015 08:08 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2016

The Republican 'Freedom Caucus' Is Un-American

ASSOCIATED PRESS

There's a stunning unreality to the right-wing attack on John Boehner as insufficiently conservative. On issues like economic policy, abortion, guns, Obamacare, gay marriage, immigration, you-name-it Boehner is in perfect right-wing harmony with the most reactionary of his Members. Indeed, the entire Republican House Majority is in lock-step about everything. The Republican Party has purged itself of ideological dispute. It is a single, hard-right voice.

Then what happened to Boehner? To answer that you need to read your Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Federalist Paper Number 10: "some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our Governments;...[rather the] increasing distrust of public engagements [are the] effects of...a factious spirit [which] has tainted our public administrations. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning Government; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for preëminence and power...have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other, than to coöperate for their common good."

The danger, sayeth the Founders, is not disagreement on policy, it is factions unwilling to cooperate. So it is with the House Republicans and the "Freedom Caucus" which drove Boehner out of the Speaker's chair. These folks are entitled to their policy views. The real question is whether they will be able to shut down the government because they haven't sufficient votes to enact them through democratic means.

Be it Planned Parenthood or immigration or Obamacare the central objection to Boehner from the Freedom Caucus is that he compromised, and was insufficiently militant. Boehner's response is to point to the undeniable fact that the Senate has insufficient votes to adopt the Freedom Caucus agenda, the President will veto and the override votes aren't there in either house. No matter says the Freedom Caucus. We must shut down the government if that is what it takes to get our way.

Again, this isn't a policy dispute. It's about tactics. I spent close to thirty years in a legislative body, and I will tell you that American democracy is not designed for speed, efficiency or clear-cut wins. It is about the development of consensus and compromise. The Founders produced a Constitution that carefully separates power and makes it harder to function. The Speaker of the House is not a Prime Minister, not a dictator. To govern otherwise is un-American.

You would think that the Freedom Caucus would be willing to put things to a vote of the whole Congress. No. They do not accept the notion of bi-partisan majorities governing. Their policies must become law, their leaders and the views of the majority be damned.

There is more at stake for all of us than the name and ideology of the next Speaker. There is a struggle for the soul of American democracy. We are being required to re-examine our basic commitment to constitutional government. We are deciding whether a faction, numbering less than 40 of 535 elected representatives, can do to the Constitution what civil war, economic collapse, and enormous social change was never able to do: Undo the basic understanding of how we govern ourselves.

Madison and Hamilton knew what they were talking about, and knew that faction and democracy cannot co-exist. The responsibility for sorting this out now falls on a Republican Party that seems not to know itself or the country, either in Congress or in the battle for the Presidential nomination. There is no reason to believe that things will come out well.