Any responsible post-game analysis of the way in which the Democrats managed to get the health care bill through Congress and to the president’s desk must include an assessment of the damage that was done to the democratic process.
The Tea Party movement, like the grassroots activists who were drawn to Obama during the 2008 election, is a symptom of the growing distrust Americans of all stripes have towards the Washington solutions factory. As perhaps the most vocal and visible opponents of the health care bill this year, the Tea Party activists are part of a much larger movement that is demanding a level of transparency, integrity and humility from their elected and appointed officials that is new.
Energized, perhaps even radicalized, by the spread of information from sources beyond the news departments of the three major television networks, this new generation of activists is living proof that Bismarck was half right: the people should neither see their sausages nor their laws being made. He was only half right not because it is bad for the people to see the process but because it is bad for the lawmakers and the professional political class to have their activities held up to public scrutiny.
Many of the modern political rebellions, from the tax revolt of the late 1970s through term limits in the 1990s and even the anti-war demonstrations of a more recent vintage, had in common that they were all a reaction to a political class that would not listen to the demands of the American people. Sometimes the opposition was justified, sometimes not. But it all combined to increase our sense of cynicism about Washington’s ability to understand the problems the nation faces, let alone solve them.
The new technology – the 21st century Internet, cell phones and personal communications devices that include video cameras - and the new platforms like Twitter and Facebook have made possible real-time political activism of consequence. The nearly instant online posting of legislation, searchable text functions, and an increased awareness of how government works have all combined to create an informed electorate that is the bane of the bureaucracy and its instinctive defense of business as usual.
The sunshine they have demanded has also chased away the fog, allowing people to see the inner workings of government in a way that is new to them -- new and unsettling. Above all else they are demanding transparency. They are demanding that politicians put an end to the obfuscation of the process and let the people in.
America remains a representative democracy, it’s true, but one that will only function as the Founders intended if the people actually have the opportunity to see and understand what is going on and petition for the redress of their grievances.
Ultimately there are two parties and two ideologies that are competing for dominance today. The first one trusts the American people and wants the system to be more transparent. The second one does not trust the American people and wants to keep things murky, so that they can continue to produce legislation like the health care bill which, in the immortal words of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would have to pass before everyone could know what was in it. When the people clamor for something in a rising cry, as they are now clamoring for transparency, and are denied it by their leaders, they will demand new leaders. Transparency may have been the victim in the process by which the House of Representatives passed Obamacare, but it will soon emerge the victor.
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring.
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