DO AMERICANS DESERVE A
CONGRESS THAT ACTUALLY VOTES?
U.S. President Barack Obama issued a public dare to members of Congress in his State of the Union address that rang a bell with fair-minded people everywhere — even those who oppose his points of view. And it certainly rang a bell with people who embrace the New Spirituality as articulated in books like Conversations with God.
CWG, of course, speaks of truthfulness and “transparency” in all areas of life, from politics to economics to our social interactions and our most personal choices, actions, and decisions. Speaking from his global podium (people around the world were watching his address, with millions of Americans paying particular interest), the President put forth a simple, eloquent plea regarding gun control legislation: just take a vote.
When citizens vote, their vote is private, of course. But when members of Congress vote on an issue, their vote is publicly recorded — and that’s where the problem lies. On issues such as this, many politicians hate the suggestion in Conversations with God to live a life of complete and total transparency. Yet the refusal of Republicans in the U.S. Congress to even vote on what many have called “common sense reform” through gun control legislation is a travesty in a country that prides itself on its democracy.
The first and most important and most highly touted aspect of its democracy, U.S. citizens will tell you, is the right and the ability to vote. Yet in Washington, D.C. — which is supposed to be the seat of America’s government — there is apparently a rush to run away from voting on any issue where doing so might cause politicians to lose votes among the electorate.
It seems clear that in the U.S. House of Representative, Speaker of the House John Boehner is in no way willing to put his fellow Republicans in the uncomfortable position of having to vote ‘No’ on common sense gun control proposals that public opinion polls show an overwhelming majority of the American people (including moderate Republicans) favor.
If such a majority of citizens favor the proposals, why will most Republicans in Congress not vote ‘Yes’? Simple. It is elections that keep politicians in office, not public opinion polls. And in elections, the National Rifle Association and other conservative political activist groups exert massive power within the Republican Party’s far right wing element (the Tea Party faction, etc.) — and it is the far right wing of the GOP which plays a huge role in deciding who wins GOP primary elections (which, of course, determines which candidate then runs in the general election against a Democratic opponent).
So in Congress, the situation as seen by GOP office holders is: “Heads you lose, tails you lose.” If you vote for reasonable gun control legislation — such as making high capacity ammunition magazines illegal, or requiring background checks for gun purchasers — you lose the support of the far right wing element in the U.S., and you lose the next primary election, taking you out of office. If, on the other hand, you vote against reasonable gun control legislation, you lose the support of the rest of the American people, and you lose the general election, also taking you out of office!
What to do, what to do…
The Republican-majority House of Representatives has figured that out. Do nothing. Simply use whatever legislative tactics are available to avoid taking a vote on gun control measures, no matter how reasonable or how well supported by the general public. (To be fair, a handful of right-leaning Democrats, elected in conservative home districts, also join in the game, called Whatever You Do, Don’t Be Transparent! Do NOT Vote Your Conscience!)
Now, President Obama has made this tactic much more difficult to get away with, without looking like what one critic called “gutless, lilly-livered politicians who claim to be the country’s leaders.” Mr. Obama said that if members of Congress feel they have to vote ‘No,’ then they should stand up and do so. But, he said, at least vote. The American people, he declared, deserve that.
As he gave his speech the President turned to the upper gallery, where parents of a slain Chicago teenager who performed at last month’s inauguration were seated, and said: “They deserve a vote!” Then he pointed to a former member of Congress, also seated in the gallery, who was shot by a crazed gunman while making a speech in Arizona. “Gabby Giffords deserves a vote!” he said, and the positive reaction in the chamber swelled.
“The families of Newtown deserve a vote!”, the President went on, and now the applause and cheers were deafening. His voice rising above the clamor, Mr. Obama would not stop. “The families of Aurora deserve a vote!” he hammered on. “The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence –- they deserve a simple vote.”
Of course, the President is right. The obstructionists in Congress who won’t even let the matter come up for a vote are ignoring the first and most basic right of a democracy — and making a mockery of what they, themselves, say is what makes America great. And the Right To Vote does make America great…except when you have to do it with courage and visibility, apparently.