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August 26, 2013 9:43 AM More Equal Than Others

By Ed Kilgore

If you haven’t tuned out the “de-fund Obamacare” talk altogether, you may have heard that the self-appointed ringleader of the “shut ‘er down” cult determined to force a government shutdown if the Affordable Care Act doesn’t go away, Sen. Ted Cruz, is admitting he doesn’t quite have the votes to work his will.

What has drawn less attention is Cruz’ prediction of ultimate victory, and the assumptions about democracy it represents:

“I’m convinced there’s a new paradigm in politics, that actually has Washington very uncomfortable. And it has politicians in both parties very uncomfortable,” he said. “And that new paradigm is the rise of the grass roots, the ability of grass-roots activists to demand of their elected officials they do the right thing.”

Now you can treat this sort of remark as meaningless pablum. Or you can look at it as part of a more general tendency on the Right to discount democratic institutions in favor of expressions of the “demands” of people whose opinions matter more than those of other Americans. You know, the “real” Americans, the “patriotic” Americans, the “hard-working, tax-paying” Americans. The Righteous Remnant. The Job-Creators. The Keepers of the Constitution.

Once you head down that road, it becomes easier and easier to find excuses for putting aside duly enacted laws (e.g., the Affordable Care Act) and duly certified elections (tainted by “voter fraud”), while entirely discrediting the right to representation of those people who have sold their votes for government benefits or political spoils.

Maybe Cruz was primarily talking about the power of “grass roots activists” to demand consistency from Republican Party squishes who snarl and rant on the campaign trail and then behave in a non-visigothic manner in Washington. But even in that context (except in Virginia), we have elections to determine which candidates represent the parties in general elections, So why do “activists” deserve extra influence?

I know there are people in both parties who actually feel that way: that “activists” are the people who are paying attention and/or approaching the issues of the day with the “true principles” of the party in mind. But I’m sorry: you cannot demand a thumb on your scales for your opinion or your vote without eroding the value of the opinions and votes of others.

Activists can and often must exert an extraordinary influence on the country at large, as those who marched on Washington 50 years ago this week demonstrated. But while they often serve to arouse the conscience of the country, that’s not the same as substituting themselves for the conscience of the country and presuming a right to rule.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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