French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville traveled through the United States as the country was growing in the first half of the 19th century in an effort to document how France could successfully transition from an aristocracy to a representative democracy. Upon his return home, he published the two-volume Democracy in America, still thought by many scholars to be one of the most accurate studies of the American experience.
Perhaps the most important theory espoused by de Tocqueville was the fear of a tyranny of the majority. He worried that a majority of Americans might have the power to completely ignore the will of the minority of voters. This could turn the United States into a despotic country, where small subsets of people were at the mercy of the majority.
The most egregious case of the tyranny of the majority in the United States is slavery, whose horrors also can be seen in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. But with the advent of the Tea Party, the United States is experiencing the opposite tyranny, one of the minority.
On Capitol Hill, 30 Tea Party lawmakers persuaded the House of Representatives to stonewall a budget deal by attaching a requirement that President Obama’s health care law be defunded or at least delayed for a year. The result: the federal government ground to a halt. If the GOP continues to stonewall and refuses to raise the debt ceiling, the country, and perhaps the global economy, could fall back into recession.
Tea Party members have said repeatedly that the president and Democrats are crippling the government. They claim that because most Americans oppose Obamacare, the Senate should accept the GOP offer. They also say the president isn’t being fair since he’s provided over 1,100 waivers to different groups and businesses, but none regarding the individual mandate.
Although polls support the lack of approval on Obamacare, they do not support the tactics the GOP using to derail the law. According to a Quinnipiac University poll, just 34 percent disagree that defunding the law is the right thing to do, and 72 percent think shutting down the government is a mistake. The bill, after all, was passed by Congress, endorsed in the 2012 presidential election by the American people, and then upheld by the Supreme Court.
First, only 4 of the 16 (25 percent) of House members endorsed by the Tea Party express won their election in 2012. Compare that to 2010, when 32 percent of Tea Party-backed candidates won.
A broader look at 2012 election numbers also shows little support for the Tea Party and the rest of Republicans, compared to broad support for Democrats. As James Fallows pointed out in The Atlantic recently, Obama won 65,915,796 votes compared to Mitt Romney's 60,933,500 votes. In the Senate, Democrats won 49,998,693 votes, compared to 39,130,984 votes for Republicans.
Even in the House, Democratic votes outnumbered Republicans by 1.7 million more votes. The only reason the GOP was able to keep control of the House was through district gerrymandering after the 2010 election.
Therefore, Democrats won a broad victory in an election that both sides saw as a mandate on Obamacare. Republicans like John McCain have tried to plead this case with his own party, but it fell on deaf ears. Yet the Tea Party refuses to budge.
And so 30 members of a 535-member legislative body are on the verge of crippling the economy of the most powerful nation on the planet, despite the fact that the vast majority of the country disagrees with their actions. De Tocqueville’s nightmare scenario is happening in reverse: The Tea Party has engineered a tyranny of the minority.
It might be tough to win the Tea Party over with a 200-year-old French philosopher. But even Ayn Rand, a hero of the Tea Party movement, warned that actions like the Tea Party are taking right now are corrosive to the health of a government and society.
“The end does not justify the means," Rand wrote in Man's Rights, directly contradicting a common Tea Party assertions about their actions on Obamacare. "No one’s rights can be secured by the violation of the rights of others."
By refusing to acknowledge the right of the majority of Americans, as well as the principals of American constitutional government, the Tea Party is doing just what Rand cautioned against. But it's unlikely that her words, nor the words of any others, will stop the Tea Party from leading the country toward the abyss.