COMMENTARY | In their anger over their inability to win their point in an election, present-day Tea Party Republicans are closely following the trail blazed by Confederates on the eve of the Civil War.
Slavery the issue in 1860
The presidential election of 1860 was decisive. Abraham Lincoln won a whopping 59.4 percent of the Electoral College vote, and 39.9 percent of the popular vote, a 10 percent advantage over his nearest opponent.
The question of slavery was at the forefront of the 1860 campaign, and Lincoln’s stand on that issue was probably the single largest factor in his election. It was clear that voters had made their choice after thorough discussion of the topic.
No doubts were ever raised about the legitimacy of Lincoln’s victory – no charges of significant voter fraud or other types of electoral malfeasance. Clearly the American people had spoken. The 1860 election was a textbook case of democracy in action.
Yet, when the results were in, seven Southern slave-holding states who disliked the outcome decided that in order to get their way on the issue of slavery, they were justified in bringing down the government of the United States through secession.
Health care the issue in 2012
Now, fast forward to 2012. The outcome of that presidential election was even more decisive than that of 1860. President Barak Obama won a commanding Electoral College tally of 61.7 percent, and had 51.1 percent of the popular vote. As in 1860, no credible doubts about the legitimacy of Obama’s election have been raised. Once again the American people spoke in a textbook exercise of democracy.
One of the foremost issues of the 2012 campaign was health care. President Obama had managed to get the Affordable Care Act, dubbed “ObamaCare” by opponents, enacted into law. His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, made repeal of that law a pillar of his campaign. He promised, “Day one. Job one. Repeal ObamaCare.” This issue, like slavery in 1860, was extensively reported on and thoroughly debated throughout the electoral season.
Yet, when the results were in, some 30 to 60 Republican members of Congress, self-confessedly aligned with the Tea Party movement, decided that in order to get their way on the issue of health care, they were justified in bringing down the government of the United States through withholding the money required for its operation. They demanded, as the price for allowing the government to continue to function, that President Obama acquiesce in repealing or delaying (which would have the practical effect of repealing) the Affordable Care Act.
Contempt for democracy shown by Confederates and Tea Party Republicans
Both of these instances, secession in 1860-61, and shutting down the government in 2013, reflect absolute contempt for the democratic process. After elections in which critical issues were thoroughly debated, and on which voters had every opportunity to make informed decisions, the factions that voters did not favor decided that the results of the election were moot. Rather than comply with the decision of the electorate, these powerful minorities would do all they could to bring down the government.
Do elections matter in a democracy? Neither the Confederates of 1860 nor the Tea Party Republicans of 2013 seem to think they do.