Just after President Obama finished his address to Congress, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stepped up to deliver the Republican response to the Obama speech. In effect, it was the Republican Party's chance to state their case to the American people.
In his speech, Jindal used the current debate over issues like the stimulus package and health care to underline key differences between Democratic and Republican ideologies. What Jindal's message boiled down to was this: Democrats want to take power from the people and Republicans want to give power to the people.
Superficially, the argument makes sense. Take the stimulus package as an example. We just spent $787 billion of the taxpayers' money. But they didn't get to decide where the money went, Congress did. Of all the money spent on the stimulus, 50 cents of it might have been directly contributed by me, but I didn't get to decide how that 50 cents was spent.
This argument fails, however, to take into account the fundamental nature of our government. We are not a democracy, at least not technically. For reasons of practicality, true democracy hasn't been used to govern a nation since ancient Greece. If Bobby Jindal thinks the bureaucrat in his Katrina story made government inefficient, it's clear that he would agree that 300 million Americans couldn't possibly debate and sign off on every policy issue. That's why we have a republican system of government. That's republican with a small "r". We are a republic. We elect representatives to advocate for us within government. So, I did indeed have a voice in how my 50 cent contribution to the stimulus was spent. Two United States Senators and One Congressman work for me. I sent them to Washington. Granted, I didn't vote for any of them. I wasn't of voting age when my Senators last stood for election. As for my Congressman, Jim Sensenbrenner, I didn't vote for him last year because I don't believe in his approach to governance. He opposes measures like the stimulus package, I support the stimulus package. But, a majority of my peers in Wisconsin's 5th Congressional District disagree, they support Sensenbrenner. By voting against the stimulus bill, Sensenbrenner was doing more than voicing his opinions, he was voicing the opinions of his constituents to the best of his ability. If he hadn't opposed the stimulus package, he might not be a Congressman two years from now.
In late 2008 when the economy began to do very poorly, Americans responded across the country by electing representatives who, among other things, promised to take action not unlike the stimulus bill. In passing the legislation, our government translated the voice of the people into law.
Jindal therefore misrepresented the distinction between Democrat and Republican. It is not a clash of people vs. government, but a clash of two different theories on how government should be run. The stimulus passed because people wanted it passed. The stimulus passed because at this moment in history, the majority of Americans favor an active domestic government. If the Republican Party wants to gain more control over governing, they can either shift to the political left to garner more votes or wait until the American people swing back to the right.
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