The GOP's Newfound Defense of 'Consent of the Governed'

One Republican leader after the next stood up yesterday to depict
the health care bill as a grave threat to democracy because it was
enacted in the face of disapproval from a majority of Americans. Minority
Leader John Boehner mourned
: "We have failed to listen to
America. And we have failed to reflect the will of our
constituents. And when we fail to reflect that will -- we fail
ourselves and we fail our country
." GOP Rep.

One Republican leader after the next stood up yesterday to depict
the health care bill as a grave threat to democracy because it was
enacted in the face of disapproval from a majority of Americans. Minority
Leader John Boehner mourned
: "We have failed to listen to
America. And we have failed to reflect the will of our
constituents. And when we fail to reflect that will -- we fail
ourselves and we fail our country
." GOP Rep. Mike Pence
thundered
: "We're breaking with our finest traditions . . . . the
consent of the governed." That the health care bill destroys "the
consent of the governed" because it is opposed by a majority of
Americans has become the central theme of every talking-points-spouting,
right-wing hack around
.

Of course, these are the same exact people who spent years funding
the Iraq War without end and without conditions even in the face of
extreme public opposition, which consistently
remained in the 60-65% range
. Indeed, the wholesale irrelevance of
public opinion was a central tenet of GOP rule for eight years, as
illustrated by this
classic exchange
between Dick Cheney and ABC News' Martha
Radditz in May, 2008, regarding the administration's escalation
of the war at exactly the same time that public demands for withdrawal
were at their height:

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it's not
worth fighting.

CHENEY:So?

RADDATZ: So? You don't care what the American people
think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off
course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

For years, the explicit GOP view of public opinion was that it is
irrelevant and does not matter in the slightest. Indeed, the view of
our political class generally is that public opinion plays a role in how
our government functions only during elections, and after that, those
who win are free to do whatever they want regardless of what "the
people" want. That's what George Bush meant in 2005 when he
responded to a question
about why nobody in his administration had
been held accountable for the fraud that led to the Iraq War: "We had
an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections."
Watching these same Republicans now pretend that public opinion must be
honored and that our democracy is imperiled when bills are passed
without majority support is truly nauseating (of course, Democrats back
then protested
Cheney's dismissal of public opinion as a dangerous war on democracy

yet now insist that public opinion shouldn't stop them from doing what
they want).

A poll
taken
by WorldPublicOpinion.org in the wake of Cheney's comments
found that Americans overwhelmingly believe that public opinion should
play a major role in key political debates, with 81% saying politicians
"should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help
them get a sense of the public's views," with only 18% saying "they
should not pay attention to public opinion polls because this will
distract them from deciding what they think is right." And 83% believe
"that the will of the people should have more influence that it does."

But, for better or worse, our political and media class does not
believe that. That's why the GOP (with substantial Democratic help)
funded the Iraq War indefinitely and without conditions even in the face
of massive public opposition. It's why the Wall Street bailout was
approved by both parties despite
large-scale public opposition
, and why a whole
slew of other policies
favored by
majorities
are dismissed as Unserious by the political class. The
Washington Post
's Shailagh Murray explicitly
said
that public opinion is and should be irrelevant to what
political leaders do because people are too ignorant to have their views
matter: "Would you want a department store manager or orthodontist
running the Pentagon? I don't think so." The American political system
is now based on the central premise that nothing is more irrelevant than
public opinion, and nobody has embraced that premise more
enthusiastically than the Republicans who ran the country for the eight
years prior to Obama's presidency, including those now most gravely
insisting that public opinion must be respected lest the Republic fall.