Friday, April 21, 2017

The Republican Party Cannot Govern Anymore

The Republican Party is not fit to govern.

It’s not due to a lack of talent. Most Republicans I know are intelligent, thoughtful people. Many of them still believe in the platform as articulated in 1980 by Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of modern conservatism, that government is the problem and that less of it is better. The problem is that none of these intelligent, thoughtful people are currently in office, having been pushed out by rabid Tea Party ideologues and political hacks.

We can see this in the many “official” positions taken by the party. For example, according to the GOP every vote is sacred and therefore justifies strict legislation to ensure against in-person voter fraud (which doesn’t happen in the first place, but no matter), but any legislation intended to curb gun violence is an abrogation of Second Amendment rights, and innocents who get mowed down are just the cost of doing business. Or Hillary Clinton using private email is an act of treason just short of giving Putin the keys to the White House, but trump and his batch of flying monkeys using cell phones to illuminate classified documents in a public restaurant is perfectly okay. Or abortion is murder, and we have to save these poor, helpless babies ... but after they’re born, they are on their own, man, and any sort of assistance is just a handout.

Back in the day, the ideology of the Republican Party made sense. You may not have agreed with it, but it was internally consistent. The basic platform (although this is an oversimplification) was that the federal government should be very limited in its powers, with the bulk of the power going to the states or local governments. The thinking here is that the closer to local you are, the clearer a picture of conditions on the ground you have and the better your ability to tailor legislation and programs to the needs of the community. This platform acknowledged that there was some organizational benefit to having things at the federal level -- after all, it is easier to administer a program like Medicare at the federal level instead of having 50 states or 3,000+ counties all squabbling over the details of how to make it work -- but the overall ethic was that the more granular, the better.

By contrast, the Democratic Party held that, in a country as large and sprawling as ours, turning most things over to local and state governments was inefficient to the point of being unworkable in most cases, and in order to ensure equal and fair treatment it was best to retain control at the federal level. The thinking here was that utilizing centralized management prevented Bibb County in Alabama implementing different rules for eligibility in Social Security, say, than Cobb County in Georgia, or Marin County in California, or Fairfax County in Virginia.

Underlying both of these competing ideologies was an unspoken understanding that neither side was going to get everything it wanted, and that both ideologies had their strengths and weaknesses and that compromise was the best way to elicit the best results from both.

Beginning in 1988 all this began to change. Lee Atwater, campaign manager for George H. W. Bush, took campaign tactics to a new low with coded racism in virtually every piece of campaign material. It was so bad that it made Nixon look like a peace-loving hippie by comparison -- and it worked. So in 1992 the Republicans upped the ante a little bit and, as soon as it became clear that Bill Clinton would be getting the Democratic nomination, began investigating anything and everything about him.

Some would say that it didn’t help matters that he gave them so much material, but I submit that Clinton’s peccadilloes were no worse than anyone else’s in government up to that point ... it was simply a case of “if you look for something for long enough, you will eventually find it.” Or, to put it another way, nobody's perfect, everybody has a skeleton or two in their closet, and if you use a strong enough magnifying glass you could find evidence that Mother Teresa once ran over a cat with a lawn mower, or something.

So bipartisanship was being jammed into a coffin, and in 1994 Newt Gingrich and his “Contract For America” swept in and started nailing it shut, giving Republicans a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years. Part of this contract thing was an ideological inflexibility and a “scorched earth” approach to legislating. In this new Republican world, it wasn’t enough to merely best your opponent on the other side of the aisle, the job wasn’t done until that opponent was completely destroyed, abandoned in a bad neighborhood, and stripped for parts.

Then came Bush Jr. It was obvious that things were a bit shady when he tapped Dick Cheney to head up the vice-Presidential selection committee, and his response was to nominate himself. After that it went downhill, and fast. First, Al Gore, despite being a very smart guy, had all the charisma on the campaign trail of a piece of plywood. Then there was the fact that Bush had surrounded himself with neo-cons who didn’t really have a problem with stretching the truth a bit (and by “a bit” I mean “until it was completely unrecognizable”), something that served him well in justifying an unnecessary war in Iraq.

Enter Barack Obama in 2008. During a town hall campaign rally on October 10 of that year in Lakeland, Minnesota, John McCain supporter Gayle Quinnell took the microphone and said “I can't trust Obama. I have read about him, and he's not he's not he's a uh he's an Arab.” To which McCain replied “He's a decent family man citizen that I just happen to have some disagreements with on fundamental issues.” This highlights something that has become commonplace in the Republican Party: the implication that someone who is Muslim or of Arab descent is somehow incapable of being a decent human being. Despite this, and despite the “terrorist fist bump” between Barack and Michelle the right wing shriek factory bleated about after an Obama campaign rally, Obama won easily.

After the election, Senator Mitch McConnell stood up in front of a CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) meeting and announced that the primary goal of the Republican Party was to ensure that Obama’s was a “failed presidency.” Not a “one-term president,” which is a valid partisan goal, but a “failed presidency.” In McConnell’s world, having a president completely fail, and bring the country down with him, was preferable to having to give Democrats credit for ... well, anything.

In 2010, the Tea Party ushered in a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and the Republican House began to set records for being the least productive Congress ever ... only to shatter that record the following year. In 2014 they gained a narrow majority in the Senate, followed by the orange nightmare winning the 2016 presidential contest. This left the GOP in control of both the legislative and executive branches for the first time since Warren G. Harding was in office.

Throughout this entire arc, we can see that the Republican Party is steadily becoming more intransigent, less willing to accept any sort of compromise whatsoever, and more ideologically rigid. From shutting down the government -- TWICE -- to holding nearly 60 votes (none of which worked) to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to blocking a Supreme Court pick for purely partisan reasons, the Republican Party has become the Party of No. The ACA illustrates this perfectly. For eight years, the Republican Party railed against the ACA, yet not once did they offer any alternatives whatsoever -- even after President Obama himself asked them to come up with a better idea. In fact, in January of 2017, Obama publicly stated that he would support a replacement for ObamaCare if the Republicans came up with an objectively better plan, and said that he wanted a neutral third party to make the determination as to whether or not it was better.

Instead, the GOP spent the last days of the Obama administration doing everything they could to block any and everything he proposed (not that this was any different from the previous seven years and ten months).

Now we have the following situation:
  • A President who has no freaking idea what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, or how to get it done. His main agenda appears to be to use the federal government as his personal ATM. Melania says she wants to stay in New York so that she doesn’t have to force her son to change schools, a perfectly reasonable concern for a mother. However, because she also needs Secret Service protection, this means they need a floor or two of Trump Tower ... and guess who the landlord is? Similarly, every time trump goes to Mar-A-Lago, the Secret Service has to rent rooms, golf carts, etc. ... all of which flows into trump’s pocket.
  • A House of Representatives run by a fractured Republican Party. On one side there are the moderates, the members of Congress who still believe in old-school compromise to get things done. On the other side are the raving ideologues, the Tea Party crazies who just want to burn everything to the ground. In the third corner are people like Paul Ryan, fiercely partisan Ayn Rand acolytes who espouse a view that the only value a person has to society is to make a fuck ton of money, and that failing to do this is a character flaw of the highest order. ANd finally there are members of Congress like Pat Meehan (R-PA 7) whose primary function appears to be to occupy a seat exclusively so that a Democrat can’t sit there. Somewhere in the middle of all this nonsense are the hard-line conservatives who are having a hard time recognizing their ideology.
  • A Senate run by one of the most cynical, jaded, partisan bullies ever to appear in this chamber (Mitch McConnell) and populated with a bunch of backward, anti-science brainstems like Jim Inhofe (R-OK) who once claimed that climate change wasn’t real because it was snowing outside (and in January, no less ... gasp!), and do-nothing obstructionists like Pat Toomey (R-PA), whose main claim to fame seems to be that he doesn’t do much of anything, thus making it harder for people to remember why he pisses them off so much.
  • And, thanks to McConnell’s blocking of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court and subsequent rewriting of the rules for approving nominations to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed, we now have a 5-4 conservative tilt to the court with a couple of potential nominees for trump in the next couple of years (hang on, Notorious RBG!).
It is clear, looking at the clown car that is our government, that the Republican Party is in over its head. Paul Ryan reads “Atlas Shrugged” in high school and is all of a sudden “the intellectual center of the Republican Party.” Mitch McConnell spends more time trying to usurp democracy, and trying to institute a one-party system (which worked so well for the Soviet Union, North Korea, and others), than actually governing.

And donald trump, who thinks being president is all about photo opps, adoring crowds, and blowing stuff up, is the drunk uncle with the car keys.

The short term solution, obviously, is to ensure a Democratic majority in Congress in 2018. The problem here is that this does nothing to address the need for a rational, thoughtful opposition instead of the rabid angry squirrels that make up today’s Republican Party. However, perhaps spending some time in the wilderness is what the GOP needs in that it will force them to bring the sprawling factions together again, to form a coherent ideology that is something more than “Liberals BAD,” and that can make the GOP what it once was: a functioning member of the body politic.

Republicans need our help. Much like a small child playing with a razor blade, we must gently steer them away from things that will cause them to hurt themselves and give them some safe toys to play with until they are capable of demonstrating the maturity needed to actually be a part of our government. The problem being, of course, that they are large, angry children with guns ...

I gotta lie down.

Changing tack

About a week or so ago I announced that I was taking a break from politics. As it turns out, this is not entirely true. In fact, I am taki...