Republican havoc in Washington — and Ottawa
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Government shutdown in U.S. has parallels to other places where democracy is thwarted.
Oct 20 2013. By: Haroon Siddiqui Columnist
The government shutdown in the United States has some parallels with Egypt and other places where democracy is thwarted, mostly by sabotaging the will of the voters and the rule of law.
The American system of governance — the president vs. Congress, Senate vs. the House, feds vs. the states — was designed to encourage restraint and compromise. Lately it has produced the opposite, due principally to an excess of partisanship and special interests.
Many Republicans hate Barack Obama with the same intensity as the Egyptian secularists did Mohammed Morsi, the elected president they toppled. Despite Obama’s convincing wins in 2008 and 2012, Republicans have been fixated on derailing his presidency — no matter the cost to the country. In their latest manoeuvre, they held him hostage 17 days hoping to undermine “Obamacare,” passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court.
Anti-Morsi forces were funded by billionaires and other undemocratic forces. American billionaires buy up politicians and groups to delegitimize and minimize government.
Morsi’s opponents routinely called him “fascist.” Republicans equate their critics with Nazi appeasers.
Anti-Morsi forces used street power. Republicans used their Congressional muscle.
There was no military coup in Washington, of course, yet the crisis there lacked democratic legitimacy. Whereas millions of Egyptians had galvanized to make the Morsi presidency dysfunctional, the American gridlock was engineered by a minority of a minority, the Tea Party fanatics and their captives in Congress.
In Egypt, Iran and some Asian, African and Latin American nations, elections are doctored — candidates disqualified, voters barred from casting ballots, etc. Republicans gerrymander constituencies, empower white voters, disenfranchise blacks and others likely to vote Democrat.
In Iran, power is constitutionally dispersed between the elected national parliament, the elected president, a couple of nominated supervisory bodies and, at the apex, the vilayat-e-faqih, spiritual leader for life, who breaks the gridlock between competing power centres.
The American president cannot be an ayatollah, answerable only to the Almighty, even if George W. Bush claimed he was guided by God in invading and occupying Iraq. Still, presidents need to invoke “May God bless the United States of America” not in the abstract but in the service of engendering greater respect for democratic give-and-take.
Some good did come out of the Washington shenanigans — the Republican brand got soiled. Unfortunately, it remains strong in Ottawa.
While Republicans have shut down government twice in 17 years, Stephen Harper prorogues Parliament when he feels like it. When he does open it, he skips it often, as on the day after Wednesday’s throne speech.
He has adopted several Republican nostrums.
- Give corporate tax breaks but gut public services, employment insurance benefits and funding to NGOs. Help mining corporations abroad through foreign aid but slash it everywhere else.
- Increase the deficit and debt even while railing against both and promise legislation to balance the books, a law he may ignore just as he did his own law on a fixed election date.
- Increase defence spending, glorify the troops, the cops, even police dogs (the throne speech pledged penalties for harming crime-fighting canines) but do little for veterans injured in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Celebrate wars (the War of 1812 and, coming soon to a park near you, the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 75th of the Second).
- Oppose gun controls, wage an endless war on drugs and spend billions on “tough on crime” measures when, in fact, crime is going down. It’s Harper’s version of George Bush’s post-9/11 formula — Be afraid, very afraid, and don’t ever forget that we are standing on guard for thee.
- Having emptied the treasury and failed to get the economy going, resort to trinkets — a break for babysitting your babies, buying hockey equipment for your kids, and using your monthly transit pass, etc.
Produce a balm for every itch — those irritating cellphone roaming charges, the cable TV bills for channels you don’t watch, and the extra fee for monthly paper bills.
Rely on symbolism, with such perennial bromides as “reforming the Senate,” in part to deflect attention from your own choices — Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
- Deny global warming and science itself to advance ideological agendassans evidence. Starve scientific institutions and undermine StatCan’s national census. Silence the scientists and other experts. In fact, silence all critics by demonizing them.
- Hijack foreign policy for domestic partisan purposes.< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/10/20/republican_havoc_in_washington_and_ottawa_siddiqui.html >