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Andy Schmookler: An attack on system that our founders gave to us


By Andy Schmookler

Imagine that the American people elect as president someone promising to institute an important reform to address an obviously major problem - a problem that every year costs the nation a trillion dollars and tens of thousands lives.

Imagine further that, once elected, the president tries to fulfill his promise with a moderate solution based on ideas from the other party -- more moderate than the policies of all the other major democracies on the same matter.

How do you think our nation's Founding Fathers would feel about an opposition party that responds to all this by


  1. going all out to block enactment of these reforms

  2. making the reform worse

  3. trying to overturn the reform even before it's tried

  4. hindering its proper implementation?

I think our founders would be outraged. They'd say that once the people make a fundamental choice, the question then is what is the best way to implement what the people have chosen.

Our founders gave us a system combining two important virtues: giving the people ultimate power to make fundamental decisions about what kind of society we'll be; and providing for thoughtful deliberation on the best way to realize the peoples goals. That's representative democracy.

The health care reform that Barack Obama promised in the election of 2008 is clear on what kind of society we'll be. In electing Obama president, the American people decided we'd stop being a society in which 45,000 of our citizens die every year because they lack the reliable access to health care provided to the citizens in every other advanced democracy.

We don't enact our national laws by referendum. We elect leaders who promise to make the changes we desire. In two successive presidential elections, the American people chose the candidate who promised to enact and implement health care reform.

If the people in this nation can't choose in such elections, then they won't be able to make such choices at all.

So the conduct of the Republican Party throughout this process since 2009 has been not just an assault on a particular piece of legislation. It's been an assault on the system that our founders gave us.

This Republican conduct has not only been outrageous, it's been unprecedented. In our history, many laws have been passed that some Americans have hated. Many laws have been passed that were far from ideal. But never, in more than two centuries, has an opposition party done anything like voting 50 times to "repeal" a law.

Now, Republicans in state governments are continuing this five-year-long effort to sabotage the reforms the American people chose in the only way they can. Not all of them: Some Republican governors - like Kasich in Ohio and Brewer in Arizona - have put the well-being of the citizens of their states ahead of this partisan effort to thwart the reforms. They have allowed Medicaid to be expanded to give more Americans of limited means important health-care security. (For several years, this will be at no cost to the states.) But in other Republican-dominated states, the work of sabotaging the program goes on, depriving millions of Americans of coverage that would save lives.
Virginia, unfortunately, remains one of those states.

Even though a majority of Virginians favor the expansion of Medicaid, Virginia's Republican legislators are using their control of the House of Delegates to block it.

Because of the stalemate between the newly elected governor, who ran on a promise to fight for Medicaid expansion, and the Republicans in the House of Delegates, the state has failed even to pass a budget.

This is part of a larger picture.

It has been a few years since it became public knowledge that the Republicans in Congress decided, even before Barack Obama had first been inaugurated, that they would make it their top priority to make the president fail. This assault on a health reform law based on Republican ideas is an extension of that ongoing effort.

The Republicans have succeeded in stirring up such strong hatred of the president among their base that this un-American effort can work politically. But conservatives should understand: this assault on the president and the reforms he promised is most fundamentally an attack on the American form of government.

Our founders would be outraged. So should any genuine conservative.

Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia's 6th District.


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