I’m sick of my Canadian and Australian friends asking me what the hell is wrong with my government. I’m worried about the government workers on furlough. I’m nervous about what will happen if and when the Treasury runs out of money.
But, mostly, I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because I hear a lot of arguing and bickering and scapegoating but very few solutions. If I hear one more person blame the Republican Party for the shutdown, I might just shake them. The problem lies in both parties caring more about politics than the people.
Part of me is thrilled that the government is shut down. I think it is great for democracy.
The House Republicans who are demanding the defunding of Obamacare are doing so in fulfillment of electoral promises to their constituents. They promised that they would fight against Obamacare. They were elected because of it. In that way, they have an obligation to refuse to compromise if they are to accurately represent the people who put them into office.
Our representatives are the only way our voices are heard at the federal level. And it makes me proud that some of them are making decisions to represent the actual wishes of the people who have elected them.
But that is awfully idealistic of me. I cannot deny the fact that democracy is also about conflict, debate, compromise, and negotiation. Our elected representatives have the obligation to voice our interests, but they also have the obligation to run the country as effectively as possible.
I think our biggest problem is a structural one. I am a lover of the Constitution. But it contains no provision to encourage debate and compromise, which I do believe is necessary for a democratic republic to function properly. In Australia (and I only know this because I studied there this past spring), there is a constitutional procedure called a double dissolution. What happens is that if both Houses of Parliament are in a deadlock over a bill, the Governor-General — the Queen’s representative in the Commonwealth — is able to dissolve both Houses. There is an ensuing election for each member seat in both the upper and lower houses. How democratic. As if to say, “You, our government, refuse to come to a decision? You care more about your stubborn, selfish desires than taking care of the needs of the people? Well, see ya!”
If the people like you, you will be reelected. If they don’t, they’ll elect someone who actually represents them and take care of this issue.
A double dissolution has only happened six times in Australian history. The members of Parliament negotiate and compromise because they want to avoid such dissolution. Maybe it’s a strange sort of incentive to keep the government running in a way that takes all voices into consideration, but it seems to be beautifully democratic.
Unfortunately, we have no such mechanism, and so we have a government shutdown with both parties standing mostly at a stalemate and a president who is encouraging a lack of compromise from his own party. I can only hope that our representatives are quickly able to suck up their personal interests and act in a way that is best for the country.
Reinhart is a member of
the class of 2014.