Friday, April 26, 2024

#117 / "Partisan Politics" Meets "Democracy"


Pictured is Mike Johnson, who is serving as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. That black and white photo comes from a recent opinion piece in The New York Times. If you would like to see a picture of Johnson in living color, click the link to Johnson's name.

The opinion column from which I retrieved the picture above was authored by Brendan Buck. Buck's column was titled, "The Freedom Caucus Started Believing in the Myth of Its Own Power." It was published in The Times on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. 

In the Spring of 2022, Buck was a Resident Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics. Currently, he is a partner at Seven Letter, which describes itself as "a leading strategic communications firm powered by senior practitioners with deep experience in bipartisan public affairs, public relations, crisis management, digital strategy and corporate engagement." Buck is described on his LinkedIn profile as a "long-time Capitol Hill aide who served in the offices of the last two Republican Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives." Buck is, in other words, a person knowledgeable about how Congress works - or doesn't work.

The main point of Buck's column in The Times is that the so-called "Freedom Caucus" in the House of Representatives, populated with some of the most "right wing" members of the Congress (all Republicans), was ultimately unable to achieve its policy goals because a very large majority of the Congress (including both Republicans and Democrats) didn't agree with many of the extremist positions taken by the "Freedom Caucus." Very specifically, a large majority of the House of Representatives (including, again, both Republicans and Democrats) wanted to continue to provide military aid to Ukraine, which has been invaded by Russia. 

People tend to think that our politics is, inherently and irrevocably, "partisan," which makes them quite suspicious of "politics," in general. It might be thought, consistent with this skeptical perspective, that if the Republican Party is the majority party in the House of Representatives (which it currently is, though not by a very large margin), what "the Party" wants is what will happen. However, that isn't exactly how our system of "partisan politics" works out. Every member of Congress, while almost always elected as a "partisan" representative, is elected, individually, from the District in which she or he ran for office, and what ultimately counts is what "the people" want. When the eyes of their voters are upon them, elected representatives do, usually, vote the way the people who elected them want them to vote.

Of course, that is how it is supposed to work - and I am saying that it usually does work that way - but everyone knows that this democratic "ideal" is not always achieved in real life. People do tend to be skeptical of "politics," and often believe that "partisan" concerns will always prevail. This was, in fact, what the so-called "Freedom Caucus" basically believed. Buck calls that a "myth." 

The "Freedom Caucus" was able to get Republican Members of Congress to enact rules which gave the extreme right wing members of that caucus a great deal of control over how the House of Representatives was operated (and thus what it could decide to do). However, the "power" of the House is, ultimately, wielded by what a majority of the Members decide is the right thing, partisan ties aside Again, as indicated above, the individual Members of Congress, whatever their party, generally end up doing what the people who elected the individual Members of Congress think is the right thing. 

And so it just happened. While there may be good arguments on both sides, the House of Representatives has just voted to send more military aid to Ukraine because that is, pretty much, what a majority of the people of the United States think is the right thing to do.

Ain't democracy grand? 

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