Power without Responsibility: a Real World Example

I generally shy away from real world politics on this blog. My fiction writing has a fair chunk of political content, which I live, but modern politics is often too adversarial, extreme, and entrenched in tedious repetitive rhetoric; it is also a bad way to make friends. In American and Canadian terms I would be considered a left wing liberal type, but I tend to get along quite well with most people until the talking points start surfacing.

That said I cannot resist writing about the current US shut down. It is a near perfect illustration of one of my earlier blog post: how nearly everyone in a position of power seems obsessed with avoiding blame.

Many people want power, or at least the perks and benefits that come with being powerful. However, power comes with responsibility. This can be a bit of a bummer if you do something that makes people angry and have to deal with the consequences. Many people in power, when faced with difficult situations will attempt to blame others people, the system, or other external causes when the situation goes south.

The shutdown of the US government is an excellent illustration of this.

  • The Shutdown started over the implementation of Obamacare. The Republican controlled US House of representatives has refused to fund the Government if Obamacare is implemented.
  • The Shutdown may run into the debt ceiling negotiations. The fight over Obamacare and the fight over the debt ceiling raise should not be confused despite the fact that they get bundled up in all the deal making.
  • The Democratic Party and President Obama have repeatedly caved in to the Republicans in this fight, most recently cutting the budget again. This is the first time that they’ve really taken a stand.
  • Obamacare is a polarizing issue in the US. However, the President did own the Law and in fact ran his last presidential campaign on it and won. Normally that would have been the end of the issue.
  • The Republican House hates the Obamacare law so much that it has voted to defeat it fourty-one times in since it was passed. (pointlessly)
  • Having no normal recourse to prevent the law from being implemented the Republican House has decided not fund the government unless a deal is made. They blame President Obama and the Democrats for not wanting to negotiate over Obamacare.
  • The current offer on the table is to shelve Obamacare for a year. Coincidentally 2014 is a midterm election year.
  • The Republicans are negotiating from a position of bad faith. Everyone knows that after a one year delay they would just start the fight over again and demand more concessions. This knowledge is based on their past behaviour; the recent and ongoing battles over the debt ceiling and the sequester should be evidence enough of that.

Not supporting Obamacare is a personal preference. Personally I think the US should move to the same sort of single payer coverage that the rest of the civilized world has adopted. While Obamacare might be unpopular with some, it is now law. The voters had their chance to reject the president and his plans in 2012. They chose not to. This is significant. The law even survived a supreme court challenge.

The Republican House, despite losing seats in the 2012 election (a majority of seats are held despite not having a majority of the popular vote), is set against the implementation of Obamacare to such an extraordinary degree that it is unwilling to drop the issue. However, instead of taking up legal recourse against it and fighting it out in an election they have decided to hold the funding of their own government hostage. It is an extraordinary step. Some may think them noble for it, others may see it as quixotic to say the least.

Regardless of your stance on Obamacare and US party politics it is hard to deny that the Republican House is the active party in this action. They picked this fight. They are using their political power, every once of strength and influence at their disposal to roll back and defeat a law that they don’t like. They may even use the debt ceiling again, threatening to default on the US government’s obligations if they don’t get their way.

However, despite their use of power, they refuse to take responsibility for their actions. They blame anyone but themselves for the government shutdown and the potential havoc it might cause. They will certainly claim victory if their political manoeuvre succeeds but they are unwilling to take responsibility for any harm that it causes, hoping that their constituents will blame others instead. This would be like President Obama vetoing every law that congress passes until he gets new regulations on banks, and then blaming congress for getting nothing done because they refuse to negotiate with him on getting new regulations on banks.

As a writer, regardless of how you feel about this situation, it is an excellent example of how rough politics can get, The Republican Party is attempting a risky, crazy political move. It may even work out for them. However, they are also trying to avoid responsibility for their actions if it does fail. This is the scourge of modern power, those who wield it often try to avoid blame for using it wrongly.

Fantasy worlds have their own power structures, from feudal systems to complex empires to fledgling democracies. Regardless of the setting, there will almost always be different factions competing for power in a single nation. The King will fight with the Barons over taxes. The border provinces will set themselves against the capital in the empire. Democracies, of course, are constantly arguing. Even the Sun Court of absolute monarch Louis the XIV had different groups of nobles fighting for the king’s attention. Regardless of the intentions and morality of these groups, some of them are sure to be the type of people who hedge their bets and try to avoid responsibility for negative consequences when they use their power.


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