The End of Majority Rule?

Obstructing Democratic Will

The National Rifle Association is facing attacks from Gun Owners of America for being too soft on gun control. This is like a double cheeseburger coming under severe criticism for lacking enough cholesterol.

Universal background checks are supported by 91 percent of Americans. Yet there is enormous resistance in Congress to passing a clean bill to keep arms out of the wrong hands. What does "rule of the people" mean if a nine-to-one issue is having so much trouble gaining traction?

Or consider the Morning Joe/Marist poll last week showing 64 percent of Americans saying that job creation should be the top priority for elected officials. Only 33 percent said their focus should be on reducing the deficit. In light of Friday's disappointing jobs report, the public's instinct is sound. Yet politicians in our nation's capital are so obsessed with the deficit you'd imagine they still haven't heard how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed.

These three non-randomly selected facts illustrate a deep structural tilt in our politics to the right. This distortion explains why election outcomes and the public's preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.

Start with the weirdness within the gun lobby. Once upon a time, the NRA supported background checks for gun buyers, and why not? Polls show that the gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks, too.

But the political far right is, among other things, a big business. The NRA's chief concern is not sane public policy. Its imperative is to maintain market share within a segment of our country that views the federal government as a conspiracy against its liberties and President Obama as an alien force imposed upon them by voters who aren't part of "the real America." Within this market niche, background checks are but a first step toward gun confiscation.

In a well-functioning democracy, the vast majority of politicians -- conservative, moderate and liberal -- would dismiss such views as just plain kooky. But here is the problem: A substantial portion of the Republican Party's core electorate is now influenced by both Obama hatred and the views of the ultra-right. Strange conspiracy theories are admitted to the mainstream conversation through the GOP's back door -- and amplified by another fight for market share among talk radio hosts and Fox News commentators.

That's because the Republican Party is no longer a broad and diverse alliance but a creature of the right. According to a March Washington Post/ABC News poll, 65 percent of Republicans called themselves conservative, just 27 percent were moderates and 7 percent were liberals. Democrats, by contrast, are far more middle-of-the-road: 43 percent called themselves liberal, 38 percent moderate and 16 percent conservative. Among independents, moderates predominated at 46 percent.

Practical Democratic politicians thus need to worry about the political center. Practical Republican politicians, especially those in gerrymandered House districts where primaries are all that matter, will worry almost entirely about an increasingly radicalized right.

And our Constitution combines with the way we draw congressional districts to over-represent conservatives in both houses. The hundred-member Senate is based on two senators per state regardless of size. This gives rural states far more power than population-based representation would. The filibuster makes matters worse. It's theoretically possible for forty-one senators representing less than 11 percent of the population to block pretty much anything.

In the House, those gerrymanders helped Republicans keep control even though more Americans voted for Democrats in the 2012 congressional races.

This representational skew affects coverage in the media. Most Americans may care more about jobs than deficits. But if a right-tilted power structure is talking about deficits all the time, members of the media feel obligated to cover the argument they hear in Washington, even if that means downplaying views held by a majority of the voters -- and even if the economic data say we should be talking about growth, not austerity.

There's also this: While background checks would likely pass the Senate with relative ease if there were no filibuster, the media cover a world in which sixty votes is the new fifty-one. Thus do the battles for 60 percent of the Senate, not the views of 91 percent of Americans, dominate journalistic accounts.

There is no immediate solution to the obstruction of the democratic will. But we need to acknowledge that our system is giving extremists far more influence than the voters would. That's why American democracy is deadlocked. 

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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Not only the end of majority rule, but for all practical intents and purposes, a government of minority rule.  Since the only law that can pass is one that a minority of both chambers will support, the minority dictates the rules that the majority will live by.  And we should also be clear that it is not just a minority of the Senate or the House of Representatives that is the measure.  Because the GOP House caucus maintains a strict party discipline, a simple majority of the House GOP caucus effectively controls the calendar in the House of Representatives.  Likewise, a subset of the Senate GOP determines what the entire Republican conference will do as a unit.  Therefore, a group of less than 40 GOP Senators and a group of less than 150 members of the House determine what laws will be enacted.

The comments by Dionne are once again distasteful, vitriolic and illogical. His greatest misstatement is the articles byline.  Indeed EJ Dionne is MOST DEFINITELY AGAINST DEMOCRATIC WILL.  He is supportive of gay marriage and wants the Supreme COurt to overturn the DEMOCRATIC WILL of the people of California. Though most AMericans beleive that abortion needs restrictions,  Dionne is a firm supporter of the abortion lobby so often saying that restrictions won't stop abortions and never noting that the abortion extremists are those who beleive in unfettered abortion to any woman at any age at any time in fetal development..has he even spoken out against after birth abortion! In his statistics, he so often misuses numbers, forgetting that the coutnry is overwhelming right of center and that almost 60% more people consider themselves conservative than liberal, which is why so many Democrats call themselves moderate or conservative.   On the issues of guns, he doesn't want a state by state DEMOCRATIC decision, allowing that our urban states differ greatly from our rural ones. FInally to suggest that the Right is big business and to ignore the Left's big business and big money with Unions, The Media, ABortion Lobby, Green Lobby just shows that his analysis can't be trusted .  It would be nice if Dionne would try to constitute arguments that were less about nastiness to conservatives and more balanced.

The American experiment is perilously close to dissolving into balkan factionalism. If the circumstances of oppression by self-serving minorities (the crony capitalists) today are less dire than they were in 1776 I would like to hear the difference explained. We have a system of representation built upon safeguards for a pre-industrial time and structure hell-bent on territorial expansion. We no longer live in that world.

The fate of America hangs upon there arising the courage to hold a Constitutional Convention and modernize the representation scheme - longer terms and more population and national needs centric electoral processes are what it will take to undue the subversive effects of bought campaigns and mis-beholding elected officials.

Will we find the confidence in ourselves to get unstuck from this obsolete framework? As of today the answer remains in the hands of the majority, I do not assume that will be the case indefinitely.

As I “look in from the outside” I feel the need “to establish my turf.”

For the past 85 years I have been, and still am, a citizen of the United States of North America.  Since 1955 I live in Nicaragua, Central America.


For last year’s Nov.  2012 national presidential election, for the first time in many years, I did NOT receive by mail my “absentee ballot” from my native city of Sheboygan, Wi.  I reclaimed by e-mail, and even sent a “letter to the editor” of the local news paper.  Both were ignored. 


Reading books, magazines and at my computer on internet I manage to follow quite closely the political movements of my country.  I am considered fairly literate since I taught “philosophy of society” and “general biology” at  the college level in 1954, and actually I am still fluent in my native “US English” and in three other languages besides being able to read in four more.


From “this turf” I would just like to give a wholehearted word of full agreement to the excellent analysis in the article by  E. J. Dionne Jr. 


I lived under the dictatorship of the Nicaraguan Somoza family during 24 years. I was active in our “Nicaraguan Sandinist Popular Revolution” in the 1980’s, and also one of the targets of the USA President Ronald Reagan and “Reagan’s Dirty War Against Nicaragua” (“TIME”), so I consider my point of view quite objective, and I’m happy to go along with Dionne in recognizing the sad state of our USA politics today as reflected in his: “The End of Majority Rule?”


Justiniano de Managua

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