October 9, 2013

Letters to the editor: Giving in to blackmail a bad precedent

We must not reward House Republicans' extortion, readers say.

The American public must reflect on the stakes in the current standoff between the House of Representatives and the rest of our government. To quote New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: “President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.”

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House Speaker John Boehner speaks to the media after a House Republican conference meeting Tuesday in Washington. As the stalemate continues, letter writers call for a resolution.

The Associated Press

The House Republicans initially tried to define the issue as about Obamacare, but quickly raised a laundry list of other issues to try to extort something – anything – in exchange for letting the government function.

They are threatening to force the American government, for the first time in its history, to default on its bills, with likely catastrophic consequences for our and the world’s economies.

If Republican blackmail were to give that party any reward for its tactic, a precedent would be set that would ensure its future use. The rational response to blackmail is always to refuse to pay because you can never buy permanent relief. Payment now always results in more blackmail later.

Republicans, including Maine’s Susan Collins, seem unable to realize that in the future the shoe may be on the other foot. We cannot rely forever on the sense of responsibility of Democrats.

I once engaged in a negotiation of this kind with two teenagers on a New York City street. One teenager held the point of a knife at my throat. The negotiation ended with my handing over all my money and the teenager not slitting my throat. In that case, the value of my intact throat exceeded the value of the small amount of money I carried.

In the present case, the value of the integrity of our American institutions exceeds all other considerations. We must not reward extortion. I hope that the negotiation this time does not end with a throat-slitting.

Meredith N. Springer


Bob Tanner’s letter of Oct. 5 (“House is just carrying out people’s will on Obamacare”) reflects misunderstanding of various provisions of the U.S. Constitution:

First, Mr. Tanner avers that “the president does not represent the people – he was elected by the Electoral College.” In fact, the votes of electors reflect the popular votes of their given states.

Second, Mr. Tanner writes: “The Senate represents the states.” A century ago, we adopted the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides for the direct (i.e., popular) election of senators. (Previously, senators had been chosen by their states’ Legislatures.) Simply put, the president is chosen by voters and senators are chosen by voters, as are members of the House of Representatives.

Mr. Tanner goes on to say: “The House represents the people, and if a majority of the people don’t want Obamacare, so be it.” Exhaustive polling has indicated repeatedly that a substantial majority of the American people do, in fact, want Obamacare, and the recent clamor to sign up for it substantiates those polls.

A question for Mr. Tanner: Why is America the only industrialized nation on earth without a national health plan?

Ensuing suggestion for Mr. Tanner: The Affordable Health Care Act has been law for three years, but, in accordance with its own provisions, has yet to be fully implemented.

Let the law attain full implementation, then allow Congress to amend, refine, adapt it to iron out the inevitable flaws and shortcomings. Or perhaps even repeal it, if that turns out to be the true will of the people – this is, after all, a representative democracy.

Whatever, I promise him the sky won’t fall in and he won’t be deprived of his favorite tea party flavor.

Alexander Severance


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