The broken Republicans
There is a very unusual and baffling dynamic at work in American politics. In a nation well-known for its ability to overreact to a perceived or potential crisis, and a political climate conducive to churning out such crises, it seems that the American people have lost the ability to identify, respond to and reject the plainly outrageous behavior of the Republican Party.
Recent Republican antics have gone far beyond the irritating ephemera of such things as the posturing of Hermann Cain in his comments about Muslim Americans or the view of Michelle Bachmann’s church that the Pope is the antichrist. These sorts of things are hard enough to listen to and accept from mainstream politicians, but they are just the tip of the sword.
The truly absurd activity of the Republic Party started with the election of Barack Obama. The backdrop to Obama’s election was a boiling cauldron of racism that existed among a small but loud segment of the Republican Party and their supporters. The most obvious manifestation of conservative racism was the “birther” issue, with its champions in the Republican front-runners and Donald Trump. The absurdity of these accusations was obvious; Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Time Magazine declared, rightly, the accusations “coded racism.” And yet for many months this “debate” raged.
As the Tea Party gained momentum and, eventually, political success, a key question among observers was whether their commitment to baffling policy positions would translate into the Republican leadership’s agenda. At this point, it appears that not only has the minority Tea Party rump managed to influence the debt ceiling debate, but in fact they have managed to commit the Republican leadership to positions that are both unfeasible and will have devastating results long term. David Brooks calls this phenomenon proof that the Republicans have become an abnormal party, the implication being that the party has stopped doing or being able to do what is clearly in its best political interests.
The Republican Party advocates solutions to the deficit and debt ceiling issue that are irresponsible, illogical, and will not solve the problem. You cannot simultaneously cut the budget and cut taxes; this does not solve or respond to the deficit as it exists. Moreover, in rejecting the 4 trillion dollar “grand compromise” offered by President Obama, the Republicans have missed their chance at achieving what they claim their goals are: shrinking the size of government and addressing the deficit.
It is obvious enough from listening to the Tea Party activists and Tea Party-backed Republicans why they have taken to intransigence. The Republican Party has been swept away with a commitment to ideological posturing that seems to find its legitimacy in its ability to claim, as loudly as possible, a sort of false authenticity to conservative values. This is not a call for getting principles out of politics; it is a call for realism, pragmatic solutions and sensibility. The Democrats are probably going to have to vote for enormous cuts to the entitlement programs they champion; this doesn’t mean, however, that they have no values or principles. It means they are able to think strategically and for the future.
In the same way, American politics have seen this sort of puritanical commitment to authenticity and values before from Republicans; recall the Moral Majority, the Gingrich Contract with America, and the baffling attempts then and now to prevent homosexuals from marrying. We know how these efforts ended up: society rejected them all, and we are left more aware than ever than politics cannot and should not be a process of how firmly you ‘stick to your guns’.
This is especially true when your ‘guns’ have no discernible content. The true mark of how broken the Republican Party is, however, comes from the Party’s inability to apprehend that the deal offered by Obama – the aforementioned 4 trillion dollars in cuts and tax code reform – effectively achieves the Party’s main goal, which is to shrink government. The Party is so broken it cannot act when its opposition does the work of achieving its goals for them; the Party is held hostage by a commitment to what it perceives as the zero-sum value of avoiding all tax increases.
Something very unusual is happening in American politics. The Republican Party has become hijacked by a group of ill-informed extremists willing to allow the nation to default on its debt; the audience currently listening to the Republican leadership battle it out appear willing to accept wildly homophobic, anti-Muslim, and anti-woman rhetoric. The Democratic Party cannot seem to capitalize on these trends, and as a result politics in the United States appear doomed to gridlock. Politics in the United States has always had the potential for and often suffered from gridlock, but never in my memory have obvious, common-sense solutions to problems that can destroy the country ever been held up so mystifyingly by one party, for reasons that turn on themselves.
|John Mullin (@john_m_mullin) is a co-founder of Thought Out Loud. He currently lives in Peterborough, Ontario and North Bay, Ontario. He writes most often about politics, current events, culture, and history. He will be moving to Kuwait in September of 2011 for two years, where his Masters in Canadian history will prove useful in teaching Grade 5 math, English and science.|