If Democrats insist on passing unpopular laws, they won't control Congress for long.
By FRED BARNESAlexis de Tocqueville never met Harry Reid. Had he encountered the Senate Democratic leader—or President Barack Obama or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—de Tocqueville might have learned about a new twist on his concept of the "tyranny of the majority."
The Frenchman toured America in the 1830s and published his conclusions in the classic "Democracy in America." He noted the powerful impact of public opinion. "That is what forms the majority," he wrote. Congress merely "represents the majority and obeys it blindly" and so does the president. They are free to brush aside minority opinion, creating a threat de Tocqueville described as the "tyranny of the majority."
Democrats in Washington do have large majorities in Congress. But instead of reflecting popular opinion, they are pursuing wide-ranging initiatives in defiance of the views of the majority of Americans. This stands de Tocqueville's concept on its head.
The most striking example is health-care reform. It is intensely unpopular but was approved by the House in November and the Senate on Christmas Eve. Asked in a Rasmussen poll in mid-December if they'd prefer no bill to ObamaCare, 57% said they would. Only 34% said they'd rather ObamaCare be enacted.
Democrats offer different explanations—besides their obsessive attachment to national health care—which suggests that they aren't quite sure of the political fallout.
After Senate Democrats locked up the 60th vote to assure Senate passage of ObamaCare, Mr. Obama sounded worry-free. Risk? What risk? The bill "is a major step forward for the American people," he said. The president didn't mention the public's disapproval as expressed in countless polls. Vice President Joe Biden, in an op-ed in the New York Times, didn't either.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, is more realistic. While acknowledging bad poll numbers, he suggested recently on ABC's "This Week" that enactment of sweeping health-care legislation will melt public misgivings. "The reality, I think, will trump poll numbers in the dead of winter as this debate is going on," Mr. Axelrod said.
Ms. Pelosi, too, is brimming with wishful thinking. "Now we will have the attention placed on the truly great things that are in the bill that we have in common," she declared recently. And Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) told Politico, "When people see what is in this bill and when people see what it does, they will come around."
Then there are the martyrs. Doing a reverse de Tocqueville, willingly endangering one's political career by voting for ObamaCare, hasn't fazed Democrat Michael Bennet, the appointed senator from Colorado. He was asked by CNN's John King whether he'd vote for ObamaCare "if every piece of evidence tells you, if you support that bill, you'll lose your job." Mr. Bennet said "yes."
Mr. Bennet isn't the only potential martyr. A Democratic strategist told Byron York of the Washington Examiner that Mrs. Pelosi "believes losing 20 or even 40 Democratic seats in the House would be an acceptable price for achieving a goal the party has pursued since Franklin Roosevelt." Now that Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith has bolted the Democratic Party, Republicans need 40 seats to capture control of the House.
With large congressional majorities, Democrats decided to forget about Mr. Obama's campaign theme of bipartisanship. They brook no compromise with Republicans and forge ahead on issue after issue—health care, cap and trade, Guantanamo, spending, the deficit—despite the public's mounting disapproval.
That arrogance shaped the economic stimulus passed in February. Republicans wanted tax cuts to spur investment and create jobs. Democrats rejected that idea and enacted a huge increase in spending. As unemployment continued to rise, public opinion turned against the stimulus. Nonetheless, House Democrats passed a new, smaller stimulus bill last week with the same emphasis on spending.
Large majorities create what de Tocqueville called a sense of "omnipotence." This leads to overreaching and spawns dubious ideas. Since Democrats believe they will benefit from passing any sort of health-care bill regardless of public opinion, they're committed to passing anything they can call a "historic" achievement. That makes little sense.
With history in mind, cutting procedural corners becomes acceptable. Thus Democrats have set arbitrary deadlines, scheduled post-midnight votes and put limits on debate, all in the name of achieving a breakthrough.
Not that such behavior is anomalous. To pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003, Republicans kept the House vote open for three hours to round up votes. Unlike ObamaCare, however, the drug benefit had popular support.
This is not the first time in recent memory when a sizeable congressional majority, feeling self-sufficient, ignored popular opinion at its peril. In 1995, Republicans, led by newly installed House Speaker Newt Gingrich, shut down the federal government in their fight over spending with President Bill Clinton. The public sided with Mr. Clinton, and the clash spurred his re-election in 1996.
William Daley, who was Mr. Clinton's Commerce secretary and is the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, worries that Democrats are doing now what Republicans did then: provoking a public backlash. Democrats must "acknowledge that the agenda of the party's most liberal supporters has not won the support of a majority of Americans," he wrote last week in the Washington Post. "Either we plot a more moderate, centrist course or risk electoral disaster not just in the upcoming midterms but in many elections to come."
"I regard as impious and detestable the maxim that in matters of government the majority of a people has the right to do everything," de Tocqueville wrote roughly 175 years ago. But what about a congressional majority—which lacks a mandate from a majority of Americans—seeking to do everything? The Frenchman might have dubbed that the "tyranny of the minority."
Mr. Barnes is executive editor of the Weekly Standard and a commentator on Fox News Channel.