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April 17, 2014 2:39 PM How the Right Stopped Believing in Democracy

By Martin Longman

With the sole (glaring) exception of their success in making abortions inconvenient, the conservative movement is clearly losing the culture war, and losing it badly. So, we should expect to hear more and more talk about how the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are much more about protecting the rights of (political) minorities than they are about representative government. It goes along with the right’s unflinching campaign to shrink the electorate while they freak out about the tyranny of insurance-provided contraception.

For George Will, there is a fundamental schism between conservatives who think liberty comes before democracy and progressives who think “a process, democracy” is the core of a free society.

Mr. Will uses a quote by Justice Stephen Breyer that the Constitution is about “one word, democracy” to suggest that the whole progressive movement feels the same way. What’s closer to the truth is that progressives feel much more strongly than conservatives that an elected majority ought to be able to enact an agenda without being filibustered to death. On what (political) minority rights should be constitutionally-protected there are obviously some differences, but there’s broad agreement on what kind of laws the Constitution forbids. What’s novel is the conservatives’ sudden insistence that the owners of large privately-held corporations should be able to dictate what is and is not covered in their employer-provided heath insurance plans. What’s novel is the idea that Catholic institutions like hospitals and universities should likewise be able to avoid any regulatory scheme that can be interpreted as crossing their church’s dogmatic beliefs. What’s novel is the idea that ranchers can use the assistance of armed militias to avoid paying grazing fees to the federal government.

That last example stems from a recurring spasmodic hostility to the federal government that crops up intermittently throughout our country’s history. But the former two are rearguard responses to a culture that is moving on without the right’s acquiescence. So, the more “traditionally” religious are asserting themselves as an oppressed minority and calling on the founding documents for protection. As part of that, they aren’t limiting themselves to heralding the wisdom and inerrancy of those documents but are going one further and actively diminishing the legitimacy of majority rule. And that fits right in with their efforts to limit the franchise and their obstructive behavior in Congress. Stuck in the minority for the foreseeable future, the right no longer believes in majority rule.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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