Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Contempt for our democracy
What does "law" mean, anyway? According to the dictionary it is, in part "a system of rules" governing how our society works. You can only drive so fast. You can't extend your house onto your neighbor's property. If you are arrested, you have a right to be treated in a particular fashion.
We follow the law because to do otherwise invites anarchy. Even if a person is guilty of crimes, of murders say, deserving of punishment, we would not want the police to just kick down his door, drag him in the street, and shoot him on the spot. That would be easiest, and that might be justice on a cosmic scale. But if he's guilty, we want him to be arrested and tried, to receive justice according to our system. According to "the law." Otherwise, the next time the police kick down a door it might be that of an innocent man—maybe even your door—and without the oversight of the law, who would ever know?
Thus it is frightening when the law is set aside for a good reason, never mind a bad one.
We live a scary time when the basic system of our government is being threatened, and by the very people we elect to administer it. And because bi-partisanship is so rare, I will give you two glaring examples of the law being skirted, one Democratic, the other Republican.
In July, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn suspended the pay of state lawmakers to put pressure on them to solve the state's staggering, $100 billion unfunded pension liability His motives were pure—something has to be done—but he did the wrong thing, because we can't have a system where the governor docks the pay of legislators every time they don't do something he wants them to do. It's bad precedent, and undermines the division of power in our democratic system. A Cook County judge correctly rejected Quinn's stunt, but he's appealing it to a higher court. He's going to lose, eventually, both a good thing, and a position Pat Quinn finds himself in with numbing frequency
Similarly, what's going on in Washington is the opening gong of doom. Even if you hate the idea of ObamaCare—a legitimate political view, I suppose—the fact remains it's the law, passed by both the House and the Senate, signed by the president, approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. To shut down the government unless ObamaCare is repealed/delayed/ whatever is to threaten the entire democratic system. Nothing that becomes law will be safe from Congress deciding to put a gun to the country's head and demanding it be changed. This action opens the door to anarchy, and all over a government-mandated insurance system which is the definition of sound social policy. It's a bad thing done for the wrong reason.
These are grim days. We can only pray that President Obama, who sometimes has problems with a squishy spine, maintains his solid opposition to negotiating with these legislative terrorists. What of democracy? What of the law we supposedly cherish? How can we pay such extravagant lip service to our system in theory, and treat it with such contempt in practice?