Geof Stone on the Government Shutdown

House Republicans and the Betrayal of Democracy
Geoffrey R. Stone
The Huffington Post
October 1, 2013

A threat is an expression of intention to inflict harm on others unless the target of the threat agrees to do what the person making the threat demands. A threat uses coercion rather than persuasion to effect change. As a general rule, democratic governments do not negotiate with those who threaten their people with harm. The reason is simple: Democracies should not make public policy in response to threats, and those who threaten should not be rewarded for threatening harm to the nation.

What makes the House Republicans' decision to shut down the federal government an immoral and unconscionable "threat" rather than an ordinary political disagreement? The answer is simple. House Republicans who do not have the votes to repeal Obamacare through the processes of democracy threatened to close the federal government, to throw hundreds of thousands of innocent government employees out of work, and to damage the nation's economy unless the Senate and the President acceded to their demands. By threatening to wreak havoc with the national interest and inflicting serious harm on hard-working, loyal public employees, they are attempting to coerce rather than to persuade the government into doing what they want. The House Republicans, in short, are holding the nation itself hostage to their demands. This is not democratic governance. This is extortion, plain and simple. In any other circumstance, this would be criminal conduct.

Of course, as the House Republicans glibly say on the talk shows, the Senate and the President can "solve" the problem any time they want by giving in to those who are inflicting ongoing harm to the nation. But if they do so, they will inevitably invite similarly destructive behavior in the future. When dealing with a blackmailer, extortionist, or kidnapper, it is never a wise response to give in to the demands if the blackmailer, extortionist or kidnapper is a repeat player.

Faculty: 
Geoffrey R. Stone