Newly christened Fox News contributor George Will sat down with NPR's Steve Inskeep on the October 9 Morning Edition to educate us all on the subtle governmental intricacies behind the week-old government shutdown and the week-or-so-away debt limit fracture. Leaning on the Founding Fathers, Will gave his stamp of approval to the Republican-led effort to repeal Obamacare and argued against the inviolability of the Affordable Care Act as "the law," observing that "the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."
Will is right: laws are not sacrosanct and can be altered or thrown out at any time. Obamacare is real-time proof of that -- the Supreme Court upheld the law but ruled that states could not be forced to participate in its expansion of Medicaid. But that's a pedestrian observation made provocative by the out-of-line invocation of segregation and slavery. "Separate but equal" and the Fugitive Slave Act were moral travesties; the ACA helps people buy health insurance. The similarities begin and end with their status as laws. Other laws have been scuttled too -- Prohibition, for example -- but Will chose those two particular laws and in doing so invited a comparison that he can't justify because it's unjustifiable.
And then there's Will's assertion that what we're seeing with the government shutdown and the attendant gridlock over Obamacare is the "Madisonian scheme," the idea that government is "hard to move, it's supposed to be. People look at Washington and say 'oh, this is so difficult.' It's supposed to be difficult."
Again, Will is right that governing and passing legislation is hard work. It was hard work for the Democrats to win majorities in both houses of Congress, and it was hard work for Barack Obama to win the presidency in 2008. Even with those majorities, it was really quite difficult for the president and the Democrats to craft a health care bill and get it through Congress, and they paid a difficult price for it at the ballot box in 2010. Defending the law in front of the Supreme Court was a monumentally difficult task, and even though it emerged, it did not do so unscathed. And then Obama and the Democrats had to go before the electorate again, in 2012, to defend the law, and not only did they succeed, they actually improved their standing in both the House and the Senate.
That was all really difficult work that utilized the normal procedures and machinery of government spread across all three branches, and was tested in national elections. Now a small faction of House Republicans, incapable of using that machinery to achieve their goal, are sabotaging the process, the workings of the government, and perhaps even the global economy in order to undo all that difficult work. As Will himself noted, they have no strategy and no clear endgame.
And yet he says this is all part of the process because "it's supposed to be difficult"? It's already been difficult. This has been one of the ugliest and most drawn out fights over domestic affairs the country has ever experienced. What we're seeing from the Republicans is an attempt to circumvent the work needed to realize the goal they've been unable to achieve over the past 5 years.
Will closed out the interview with Inskeep by musing on his hero, James Madison, and the Federalist Papers:
The political problem, as Madison understood it, is at bottom a problem of passions. And the entire architecture of our government is an attempt to moderate through a deliberative process the passions that are endemic to popular government. So when we see passions in play, we shouldn't be startled that's the problem. We knew they're always in play. Rather, we should say, how are we doing at moderating them?
Right now a minority in one House of government, animated by unerring zeal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, is causing massive disruptions to government operations, financial markets, and the lives of everyday Americans because they have no other leverage. Even Madison, Will's champion of "difficult" government, might be inclined to think we're not doing so great a job at "moderating" those "passions."