Let me preface this by saying that this is going to be a short post. You might have noticed that I have been posting a bit less frequently (but probably you did not notice anything at all). Here are the details, but the short version is that I am trying to honor the grace and patience of my editor. Still, I do political theology, so I feel obliged to make a brief observation about the government shutdown. My point is more philosophical than theological (Jerusalem and Athens have always been “passionate” lovers, in every sense of that word, no matter what Tertullian says). If you are looking for a partisan rant about how the GOP is obstructing the democratic process, expect to be disappointed, because I don’t think they are obstructing democracy at all. I think the government shutdown is democracy in action.
I guess I should give a bit of context, which will involve me placing my political cards on the table. I am a supporter of universal healthcare (shocking, I know). That’s not Obamacare, but I think it is better than the current system or anything coming from the ideologues who imbue the market with god-like power to fix all our problems (or, to be fair, most of our problems). Tactically speaking, the GOP has clearly – clearly! – overplayed its hand in their attempts to de-fund Obamacare. They need to “tap out,” lick their wounds, pick up their ball, and go home. (No, that is not four mixed metaphors! It’s a new sport that combines dodge ball, jiujitsu, and Snoopy costumes.) I do not want to vilify the Tea Party wing of the GOP (too much). There is plenty of ideology to go around. My beef here is actually with some ideology I see on the Left.
Ideology is just another word for confirmation bias, and an ideologue is just someone who does confirmation bias really well. It is reactionary, making accusations without thinking too hard. That’s what is happening when folks on the Left (like John Stewart) claim the GOP is subverting the democratic process.
Charles Taylor has observed that democracy is the only political system in the world that allows for its own destruction. That means, in theory, a democracy could vote itself out of existence. In practice, democracy goes away through the ignorance and apathy of its citizens. Sure, we could get upset about the fact that we have supported plutocrats with our votes and our dollars, but Duck Dynasty is coming on in a few minutes, and the nice white people on Fox and Friends keep telling me the problem is with big government. So there!
When it comes to the current crisis, the GOP is attempting to undermine a law that was passed by congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, but they are not undermining democracy. I know it looks like that, but let’s not forget that the Constitution has put mechanism in place that would allow this sort of thing to happen. I agree that the Tea Party wing of the GOP is acting like a bunch of lunatics. Shutting down the government to force a virtual repeal of the Affordable Care Act is like a psychopath who threatens to burn down our house, with everyone in it, if we do not let him strangle the family pet.
The GOP is being unreasonable, petty, foolish, and rhetorically and intellectually violent, just not undemocratic. This is the way the system allows itself to work, because this is the way that we allow the system to work. This is what happens when too many citizens let other people do their thinking for them. We are getting the kind of democracy we have let happen. We are getting the democracy we deserve.