Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) is wrong: we are a republic AND a democracy

Republicans show their true colors when they insist we are a "republic" to stifle the people's voices

H/T to Monologues of Dissent, who posted the video from which quotations for this post are derived.

Wisconsin Assemblyman Gary Hebl, a Democrat, had had enough. After seeing spectators removed from the Assembly gallery -- including those that hadn’t caused any disturbances to the legislators on the floor below -- Hebl made an impassioned statement on the threat to democracy:

“And I do believe that it’s appropriate to talk about the guests that were here, and those who were removed.” he said. “Especially those that did not engage in any activity that was cause for them to be removed.

“And so, I do respect the institution greatly. I’m very proud to be here. But when we do not practice democracy, we give no warning to the members in the gallery, I believe we do a great disservice to democracy.”

His statements were followed by applause...and scorn from his Republican colleague, Rep. Bill Kramer, who at the time was acting as Speaker Pro Tem, who said:
I’m really sorry if you feel that hurts democracy. Luckily, we live in a Republic.
Ah, yes, the ever-present “we’re not a democracy” argument. Conservatives like to make this case often, reminding the people that we function as a republic...and so, shut up already with your “democracy” babble!

The argument goes like this: yes, politicians are elected to office. But they cannot be expected to respect the democratic wishes of the people once they’re there! We live in a republic, which to them means representatives act as safeguards, to halt the casualties of mob rule, and to impede the wishes of the people when necessary.

Which, is an extent. Republics do stifle the negative aspects of democracy, protecting against a direct democracy’s ability to limit the rights of certain groups and minorities who don’t find themselves among the majority.

But that doesn’t mean that our government is designed to ignore ALL aspects of democracy. And stifling the opinions of the people surely was not what the founders had intended when they set up a republic.

In fact, republics are just as capable of restricting people’s rights as democracies are, perhaps much more so. Keep in mind that a republic need not involve itself in the pesky little business of elections.

Such notable republics that existed in the past include Soviet Russia, Cuba, Communist get the idea. Without democracy thrown into the mix, republics are capable of being very dangerous to the rights of the people.

Those countries were established as republics -- that is, countries who have lawmakers who are meant to represent certain geographical areas. What made OUR republic different, however, was the infusion of democracy.

The right of the people to have a voice, to have certain rights, and yes, to even select their members of government, is what made America so unique in the late 18th century, and what made our nation the envy of the world, copied in several nations thereafter.

With that in mind, Gary Hebl’s comments are not to be brushed aside lightly. They make a great deal of sense, given that Republicans have tried every avenue possible to limit the people’s presence in the Capitol.

Bill Kramer’s simple statement -- “Luckily, we live in a republic” -- tries to marginalize Hebl’s concerns.

It’s not that Kramer is wrong to oppose the people every now and then (it’s clear the Republican Party of Wisconsin is doing that quite often these days). Representatives often have to chose between what’s best for their constituents and what do their constituents desire, and oftentimes the two are mutually exclusive of one another.

But Kramer’s characterization of our government implies that it carries NO respect for democracy whatsoever. And that’s a very dangerous assessment for a leader in our state legislature to make.

I’ve written on the “republic-versus-democracy” debate before. In that piece, I wrote, “We’re not a full-fledged democracy; but neither are we a republic that is detached from the people’s wishes and desires.”

But Bill Kramer seems to be advocating a disconnect from the people he and others are meant to represent. Yes, those who distract in ways that are inexcusable in the Assembly gallery should rightfully be removed. But silent protest, through a t-shirt, a button, a sign, or even duct tape, shouldn’t be hindered.

These are attacks on democratic tenets of our society, attacks on civil rights...and it seems to be precisely what these Republican lawmakers want to carry out.

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