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Speaking Truth to Power

Last week Rep. Justin Amash, formerly a very conservative Republican member of Congress and the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, declared he’s no longer a member of either the party or the caucus. He is also the only Republican member of Congress to call for the impeachment of president Trump after he actually read the entire Mueller Report in May. Amash’s reasons for his actions — and his motivation for speaking truth to power — are that the two political parties and the partisan loyalties they demand are eclipsing the real and necessary responsibilities of elected officials in a representative democracy.

As Amash put it: “True to [George] Washington’s fears, Americans have allowed government officials, under assertions of expediency and party unity, to ignore the most basic tenets of our constitutional order: separation of powers, federalism and the rule of law. The result has been the consolidation of political power and the near disintegration of representative democracy.”

There’s certainly no better or more obvious example of what Amash is referring to than the blind partisan loyalty his former Republican Party and its congressional members have used to ignore the excesses, illegalities and unconstitutional abuses of President Trump. The problem is, when public officials take their oaths of office, they swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Nowhere does it say “unless they’re from my political party.”

Of course Amash is going to pay heavily for telling the truth by dumping party loyalty in favor of the oversight duties which the Constitution assigns to Congress. Being true to his fiscal conservative beliefs already cost Amash his seat on the Budget Committee in 2012. Now he may lose his seat on the Oversight and Reform Committee and not be allowed to caucus with Republicans.

It would be great to say Amash is right about Republicans but wrong about Democrats doing the same thing. But that’s simply not the way it is.

Take the 2016 Demo primary in Montana, for instance. In fact, Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton. Simply put, his platform and vision resonated and was supported at the polls by Montanans and by all rights Montana’s delegates to the national nominating convention should have represented the wishes of the voters — as should have the Montana Democratic Party.

Instead, almost all of Montana’s delegates, including U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, cast their votes for Clinton and the party shifted funds that should have gone to Bernie to Hillary’s campaign. In other words, they told the voters “sorry, you don’t know what you’re doing and the party does and requires that we vote for Hillary.” The result was the overwhelming defeat of Clinton in Montana and the near sweep of all statewide offices by the Republicans. Not coincidentally, the reprehensible fund-shifting resulted in the ouster of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Bernie Sanders’ popular platform also embraced single-payer health care. But Montana’s top Democrats, like Jon Tester, refuse to support what his own party’s base endorsed. Why? Might want to check the big bucks with which the pharmaceutical and insurance industry steers the loyalty of the Democratic Party operatives away from its own members.

One need not embrace Amash’s conservative ideology to acknowledge that his warning “if we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it” rings true. That is, unless we, the people, demand real representative democracy from our elected officials, not marching in lock-step with the dictates of the two dominant political parties.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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