Arrogance is an occupational hazard in politics, one that is often fatal, and the Democrats show every sign of having succumbed. You would think someone in the party would sound the alarm. But, so far, Democrats seem willing to follow their leaders off the cliff. The president, House speaker and Senate majority leader appear ready to defy the American public and ram a disastrous and unpopular overturn of health care down our throats, regardless of the consequences to the country or their own political futures. There is something deeply disturbing about this turn of events -- and undemocratic.
There was considerable evidence that Barack Obama had these tendencies even before he became president. While much of the media was fawning over his eloquence, some critics warned that Obama's repeated declaration that he wanted "to fundamentally transform America" was a disturbing sign of the man's hubris.
And while his assertion was laughable, the night he won the presidency, that his election would mark "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," the statement also had a dark undertone. Like the promise to fundamentally transform America, it said something not just about the president's inflated view of himself, it also bespoke a flawed understanding of the role of the president and the limits of presidential power.
Now, when asked whether he's willing to accept the political consequences of passing health care legislation that the voting public opposes, the president says that he would rather be "a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." It's an amazing statement when you think about it. It says, none too subtly, that Obama has little faith in the voting public to recognize what's good for the country. Now that is a stunning indictment of democracy on his part.
But Obama is not alone among his fellow Democrats to demonstrate his contempt for the democratic process. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have no qualms about moving forward even when the voters are opposed. Pelosi has told Democrats that they should sacrifice their own re-election if necessary: "We're here to do the work of the American people," she told ABC last week in an interview that aired Sunday.
The statements reek of elitist self-importance. Almost by definition, "really good" presidents are re-elected. And while, occasionally, a mediocre president also gets re-elected -- provided the country's at peace and the economy is humming along -- all the one-termers I can think of fall into the mediocre or worse category. And who is it that Pelosi thinks determines "the work of the American people?" Shouldn't the people have a say in what constitutes their own "work"?
The White House has now set a deadline of March 18 for Congress to pass the largest piece of social legislation in the last 50 years. What's so important about that date? Will millions of Americans suddenly lose their health care or premiums skyrocket that day? No, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, it's just that Obama is leaving on a trip to visit his boyhood home of Indonesia that day and, apparently, wouldn't want to be inconvenienced by waiting for Congress to engage in more thorough deliberation and debate.
The president has already made more foreign trips than any of his predecessors at this point, but, of course, the "deadline" is just another way to pressure Democrats to get the bill passed before there is more public outcry that might convince elected officials to vote the way their constituents want them to.
Democrats need to ask themselves the following question: Whom do I owe loyalty to: the people who elect me or the leaders of my party? True democrats -- regardless of party -- understand that they are not in office to fulfill their own wishes. They are there as the representatives of the people. Democrats who choose to follow President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, in defiance of their constituents, aren't just jeopardizing their political futures. They're acting undemocratically.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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