We have entered a national debate on the role and size of government, intensified by the passage of health-care-reform legislation. It is not quite Antietam, but many Americans feel that their deepest beliefs about liberty and self-government are being undermined. Passions run high. Activists slip easily into reckless talk of tyranny and revolution.Perhaps Gerson thinks that Palin should have added “THIS IS A METAPHOR, GUYS”, for the benefit of those who do not enjoy membership in the moose-hunting fraternity. And I really don’t follow his drift when he says that Palin “ignored a positive duty to confront political extremism.” Confront what political extremism? As I have said before, show me a list of terrorist attacks by Tea Party activists, of universities besieged, of violent mass protests. Even the charges of felonious expectoration and use of a vile racial epithet proved to be bogus. Americans watched the most brazenly partisan government in recent times pass a bill that a majority believe (correctly, in my opinion) will have a seriously adverse impact on their quality of life, and the first duty of conservative leaders is to ask their followers to play nice?
In this context -- on the day health reform became law -- Sarah Palin wrote to her Twitter tribe: "Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead -- RELOAD!' " In a moose-hunting culture, these words probably carry less menace. Palin was not trying to incite violence. But she was careless about the context of her words and ignored a positive duty to confront political extremism.
The most basic test of democracy is not what people do when they win; it is what people do when they lose. Citizens bring their deepest passions to a public debate -- convictions they regard as morally self-evident. Yet a war goes on. Abortion remains legal. A feared health-reform law passes. Democracy means the possibility of failure. While no democratic judgment is final -- and citizens should continue to work to advance their ideals -- respecting the temporary outcome of a democratic process is the definition of political maturity.Now, I would call that a very true-ish notion; however, it lacks the context to which Gerson previously attached so much importance, and which makes all the difference between relevance and irrelevance. I agree wholeheartedly that a functioning democracy depends on the acquiescence in the final decision by those whose candidates have lost. If every election resulted in riots and insurrection, then ours would be a genuine banana republic. But I think it matters very much what people do when they win – or, to be more precise, it matters very much what elected officials do when they win. A majority of voters gave us Obama and a Democratic Senate and House of Representatives; so be it. But it seems clear that the majority of voters did not believe that they were going to be getting the kind of federal overreach they are seeing in, to take the most egregious example, the health care bill. The opposition to this bill was wide and deep, and was ignored by the Democrats. It is one thing to expect the losers in an election to abide by the results. It is quite another when, in addition to the losers, a large proportion of the ostensible winners are being asked to accept results which they didn’t endorse. Democracy certainly does mean “the possibility of failure”; but it does not imply the acceptability of deception and mendacity, nor does it apotheosize elected officials and render their decisions sacred, in spite of being objectionable to the majority. And we are constantly informed, even by many Republicans, that the health care entitlement is practically irreversible. This is a sentiment I do not share, but if it proves to be true, then it would be at least one democratic judgment that does, indeed, turn out to be “final”. Is it not a matter of some concern, therefore, that this final decision represented an abuse, at least, of the spirit of democracy?
Gerson’s suggestion would be to throw the rascals out over the course of the next two elections. I agree. I believe practically everybody who opposes the policies of President Obama and his party agrees. I know of no one who is calling for Obama’s impeachment, and the few instances of violence recorded recently (actual and threatened) have nothing to do with the groundswell of public opposition to the policies and ideological vector of this administration (and everything to do with fringe nutbuckets). If the rhetoric is heightened and occasionally intemperate, the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame, for they have turned deaf ears to reason, and adopted a “because-I-said-so” approach both to debate and to governing. And I go on record as saying that talk of “tyranny”, far from being “reckless”, may be one of the surest and most non-violent ways of reminding our progressive triumphalists that those who still value liberty are alive and well – and numerous.
Update: By the way, I found the Gerson article via a link in a post by Peter Wehner at Contentions. The names of Gerson and Wehner were giving off bad vibes for some reason, but I couldn't remember exactly why. So I started Googling, and it all began to come back to me.