Government Shutdown: A Sign of Failure or Success For Democracy?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

United States Capitol building with stormy weather. (Shutterstock)

The fight over the government shutdown continues in Washington.

“Congress doesn't just have to end this shutdown and reopen the government, Congress generally has to stop governing by crisis," President Barack Obama said in remarks on Tuesday at White House. "They have to break this habit, it is a drag on the economy, it is not worthy of this country.”

But not everyone thinks that the shutdown is a crisis. On Monday night, Newt Gingrich told CNN that the government shutdown is not a sign of a dysfunctional democracy.

“People tend to forget, this is not a crisis," Gingrich told CNN host Pierce Morgan. "The House is elected independently, the Senate is elected independently and the President's elected independently. This is by design. The founding fathers wanted to force—to literally force—all three to deal with each other.”

This got us thinking about the role of a minority party in Congress. In the Constitution, there is a fundamental tension between the decision-making authority of the majority, and the protections granted to the minority.

We take a closer look the assertion that the government shutdown is a sign of a functioning democracy. Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, explores the tension of the American democratic process between minority and majority.

Read Stone's recent blog post on this subject here.


Geoffrey Stone

Produced by:

Tyler Adams


T.J. Raphael

Comments [11]

John from Dallas

I'm outraged at the dishonesty of the Republican chairman. The shutdown is not a Democratic fault. It is the result of House Republicans refusing to do what they are constitutionally requred to do - vote on legislation, not packages of unrelated issues. They refuse to pay the bills they voted to incur. They were elected to be the party of responsible adults and instead thet act like six year olds who want to negotiate saying I'll only eat my spinach if the parents give me a pass on doing homework and cleaning my room. The real Republicans are so scared of the Tea Party minority they've abdicated any sense of responsability for protecting the people, the country, or its economy.

Oct. 03 2013 12:27 PM
Carla from NJ

I am incensed that our congressional representatives themselves are not subject to the government shutdown and the sequester. Congress should be considered "essential personnel" who must show up and do their job and not get paid. How long would it take to resolve the shutdown then? In fact, Congress should lose their health care benefits (for life, no less), then let's see how quickly the Affordable Care Act gets funded. Enough of "it's okay for you, but not for me." Stalemate is a luxury enjoyed by government workers receiving their full salary and full health care benefits.

Oct. 02 2013 11:36 PM
RT from Santa Clara, CA

A people blaming their elected government for its disfunction is like the brain blaming the fist for punching a wall.

The reason our federal government behaves this way is more or less inseparable from the disagreement in political views among the people.

If my government is constituted by those with whom I disagree, it's because I and others likeminded have failed to convince our neighbors to agree with us. The moral outrage and bloviating over special interests and money and gerrymandering etc. have some merit but are tertiary; these nuisances have been with our republic for over two hundred years, including stretches where votes could be had for the price of a shiny new dime.

If we have any antecedent whom we may call upon for advice, none can be better than James Madison, in Federalist 10, on the threat of faction: "...The common and durable source of faction has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society."

Oct. 02 2013 03:54 PM
SeparateChurch AndState

I cannot help but wonder how much influence the evasive, unaccountable, sworn to secrecy, buzzword, and LDS/Mormon faithful Utah Senator Orin Hatch (founder of the Federalist Society, and brother to the TEA-Hadists)has had on today's worldwide commerce and politics. Sometimes his Federalism seems like a latter day version of "Mormon Socialism".

Oct. 02 2013 02:34 PM
Mike from Portland, OR

One of the basic philosophies of Conservatives (Tea party, Republican party, Libertarian party) is smaller government/less government spending. Isn't this government shutdown "smaller government"? The "sequester" less spending?
So, isn't this democracy? Somebody elected conservative politicians. So, all you can do is: vote every 2 years. To vote, you should know what's going on: listen, read, observe, think, decide. Lotta work. Gotta do it.

Oct. 02 2013 01:04 PM
Vik from Portland, OR

Al-Qaeda must love the Republicans. They could not have engineered a better legal terrorist act against the USA, putting fear into millions of Americans who have to struggle to pay for food, mortgages and keep their families afloat.

Oct. 02 2013 12:55 PM
Monte Harmon from Hillsboro

"nearly three centuries on..." You must be joking me. Since when is 230 years almost three centuries? And if you don't have any idea what was intended 230 years ago then you should read more, not claim that 'we' don't or can't know.

Oct. 02 2013 12:54 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

While it does warm my little heart to consider that each day this carries on is one more nail in the coffin of the Republican Party, I think we do need to address the structural issues involved.

The Executive Branch, headed by President Obama, carries out laws enacted by the Congress. It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to come up with the money to pay for the laws they enact. Obama is taking a principled and necessary stand when he says he will not negotiate one dollar out of the laws already enacted, laws supported by the American people in an election, and even supported, amazing though true, by a clot of rightwing nutjobs in the Supreme Court.

Presently a gang of anarchist bullies in part of the Congress is preventing the Congress from carrying out its sworn constitutional duty. This gang is celebrating, celebrating that they have shut down the federal government to a considerable extent. Celebrating actions that violate their oath of office, and which could even fit the definition of treason under the Constitution. It is not for President Obama to deal with this. It is for the Congress to do its own housecleaning as necessary.

Take a broom and dustpan, mop and pail, Congress. Do your duty. Clean up these destructive thugs and the mess they have made.

Oct. 02 2013 12:35 PM
sandy richards from Estacada, OR

And we want other countries to become democratic! What an embarrassing example being set. Our congress has proven itself to be non-essential. The American people are paying these spoiled brats nearly $200,000 in salary and perks...for this?!
Doesn't congress get free healthcare for life?

Oct. 02 2013 12:33 PM

What we need is a massive demonstration by citizens, both Republican and Democrat, that sends a loud and undeniable message that WE THE PEOPLE will not put up with behavior that demeans our nation, negates the function of elections, the Supreme Court and the will of the people, leaves us vulnerable before global forces and undermines our values and reputation. And for what? So that the interests of invisible forces that are neither elected nor selected by THE PEOPLE can taunt each other with "Mine is bigger than yours!" My battle cry is RECALL THEM ALL!

Oct. 02 2013 12:32 PM
Ed from Larchmont

I don't think it's an indictment of democracy, but it shows a democracy can choose the wrong things. O-care is also a large step toward the entrenchment of abortion in our healthcare system, and every time a country chooses to take a step toward abortion bad things happen. I can't imagine what will happen soon when the debt ceiling has to be raised.

Oct. 02 2013 09:07 AM

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