broke down yesterday, over the Republicans' refusal to allow the people to vote on a package of tax measures, that the Governor and the legislative majority support as part of a plan to balance the state's budget. Why does the minority have this power? Because we have a 2/3 requirement for raising taxes in the state legislature. The minority take full advantage of their political power to demand additional concessions in return for going along even with the possibility that a referendum of the electorate will support a tax increase. In this case, their demands, at least for the moment, are too much for the majority. It is hard for me to see this intransigent position as anything other than a slap in the face to the principle of democracy. What reason can the minority of the legislature have for refusing even to let the people vote? That they, the minority, must know better what the people want than both the legislative majority and the people themselves?
In Congress, Republicans control a solid majority of the House of Representatives, but are still a minority in the Senate (even before considering that most Senate business now seems to demand a super-majority). This majority in one chamber knows it cannot work its will on the other chamber, or obtain the president's signature on any legislation it wants to pass, but nevertheless is threatening to shut down the entire government if they cannot have their way on spending cuts.
It's not my point to debate the merits of whether we need more spending cuts or tax increases or a bit of both (though for the record I actually enjoy debating those issues). This is not primarily a policy blog. This is more of a process blog. And what I would like to see as a matter of process is more respect for the process of democracy, even if that means that one side doesn't always get its way.
This tendency to disrespect democracy is not confined to the right. Elements on the left are disgusted with the Obama administration because they did not close Guantanamo, or did not enact a single payer health care plan, or a number of other grievances. These elements are so enamored of their own policy preferences that they completely ignore the democratic process. They evidently think the administration could still just close Guantanamo even though Congress has expressly forbidden that any funds be spent to house these prisoners anywhere else. They think the President could have gotten Senators like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln to go along with a more liberal health care bill by what, . . . torture perhaps?
It also has to be acknowledged that the recent uprisings in Wisconsin, in which the Democratic minority fled the state to prevent a vote, and protesters swarmed the Capitol to attempt to intimidate the state legislature from restricting union collective bargaining rights, could be seen as anti-democratic. In that situation, however, at least the protesters were attempting to bring popular opinion to their side, and it does appear that the majority of voters (contrary to their expressed preferences in the election several months previously), support the protesters' position, and may have the chance to impose their will in upcoming recall elections.
When we observe factions in other countries fighting over the future shape of their governments, as for example when the fledgling democracy in Iraq took months to form a government, it is easy for us to see that these factions need to form coalitions that reflect the will of the people, and that no faction should have its way in its entirety. We ought to think about applying these same principles at home.