Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: GOP tramples constitutional intent
Vail, CO, Colorado
James Madison didn’t envision one political persuasion repeatedly winning with an all-or-nothing mentality. He contributed to an eloquent defense of our republic, writing 29 of the Federalist papers in 1788. He made clear, especially in Federalist No. 10, how constitutional principles best worked. He described a balancing equilibrium in the Constitution, which sprung to life when politicians didn’t rubber stamp convictions.
The Constitution pits political forces against each other. This causes vigorous debate among foes. When ideological purists force followers to toe the party line, they clash with the constitutional favor of competing viewpoints.
Such an anti-constitutional rant became the Republican Party’s rallying cry as they fought against “ObamaCare.” Unleashing cynical barbs against health care reform, fearful Republican House leader John Boehner warned of our nation’s doom because this “socialist” health care policy would usher in Armageddon.
Party enforcer, Rep. Todd Allen of Missouri, seconded this alarm, exclaiming how “we are being fitted with the gold chains of socialism.” He described stark alternatives: Either patriots must stand for glittering freedom or fall for “the gloomy shadows of some European cynical society.”
What health care legislation foes label ObamaCare isn’t a “government takeover.” The health care bill Congress passed refines and strengthens, rather than roots out, the employer-based health insurance system our nation has had in place for several decades.
This plan guides citizens to private insurance policies and pools, some of which the government will subsidize so all may benefit from health care.
Republicans conjured up silly scenarios to scare elderly voters. Last fall, they told us President Obama had formed death panels that would snuff out the lives of elderly folk.
The Republicans lost the health care debate because many Americans figured the conservatives’ acerbic rhetoric clashed with the Constitution’s spirit. Our nation’s founding document doesn’t allow for all-or-nothing tactics.
Pulitzer-prize winning author Bernard Bailyn in “To Begin Again: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders,” shows why the Republicans’ fatal strategy was fundamentally wrong. Bailyn concludes, “Tension, balance, adversarial clashes leading to conciliating moderation lay at the core of the Federalist writers’ thought. But they knew that a mechanically tense, self-balancing system did not activate or maintain itself.” The Constitution doesn’t tolerate dogmatic stances, asserts Bailyn. It thrives on competing convictions.
Then Bailyn offers the key to the Constitution’s effectiveness. “Its success,” he observes, “would depend in the end on the character of the people who managed it and who allowed themselves to be ruled by it — their reasonableness, their common sense, their capacity to rise above partisan passions to act for the common good and remain faithful to constitutional limits.”
The Republicans’ strategy of winner-take-all in the health care debate crippled them twice over. They sounded argumentative, rejecting a biblical way to move debate along. “Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). Moreover, the Constitution respects negotiation, compromise, and giving a little here to get a little there as dynamics by which our republic thrives.
David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, on his blog told the truth about the Republican’s anti-constitutional strategy. “We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement,” lamented Frum, “and they led to abject and irreversible defeat.”
What does this anti-constitutional bias look, sound and act like in the political theater?
Frum writes, “There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped up the Republican voting base into such frenzy that deal making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with someone who wants to murder your grandmother? Or — more exactly — with someone whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?”
A few days after this honest, blistering evaluation was posted, the conservative American Enterprise Institute axed Frum from its payroll.
The Constitution envisions some horse-trading, vigorous debate and tit-for-tat deal making. Voting a straight party line and repeating “nope” in the face of diverse opinion work better in a dictatorship than they do in our constitutional republic.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.