The GOP Needs to Be Born Again

The Republican need to go down in flames so they can remake themselves by rising from their own ashes.

Yesterday’s post elicited a response reading in part:

If we gave the Democrats power next year, you know what they would have? A mandate. That’s all we would hear about until the next election, which they would lose, because they thought they had a mandate. It’s like watching a tennis match and rooting for the guy without the ball.
Maybe the Republicans made it tough on Obama. Maybe Obama wasn’t leader enough to overcome it. Did the GOP fail to vote in Obama’s FOMC appointee’s? Yes. Did Obama make recess appointments which were within his power? No. Obama is not a victim, he’s the president. If the other guys played the system better to get what they want, than well played.
Ezra says that this is the logical conclusion of a system biased toward gridlock. The system is broken. Let’s fix the system instead of kickin the can down the road.

I certainly agree the system is broken.  My preference would be to fix that. However, we have repeatedly failed to fix those problems. It would be great to see substantive campaign finance reform, have the Fed refocused on NGDP goals, revise Senate rules so that a super-majority isn’t required for everything, institute lobbying controls so legislation wasn’t ghost-written by special interests… I could go on.  But the likelihood of any of those being addressed this year is vanishingly small.  Not that we should give up on those reforms, but that there remain practical short term things we can fix in the meanwhile.

I’m also an independent. I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, and I’d like to do so again. But the current incarnation of the party has gone beyond the pale, and until they find their way back to sanity, I will not vote on the GOP line. They have not only lost any willingness to compromise, they have lost the ability to agree to their own positions when the other side agrees with them.  They lost the election in ’08, and have yet to acknowledge the legitimacy of the people we elected.  Win or lose, there’s still a country to run. And they are refusing unless they are put back into power.

I’m not claiming Obama is the greatest, or that the Democrats are above playing politics or fighting for their policy positions.  But they have not engaged in the extreme intransigence of the GOP.  If given full control of the government, would they eventually yield to the same sort of behavior the GOP is showing? Very probably. But that won’t happen overnight. Policy-wise, Obama is far closer to Reagan than Romney. There is almost no chance the Democrats would take a mandate and run to the extreme left. It’s much more likely they will stick to their current centrist proposals.  Meanwhile, the GOP gets to go lick its wounds, expunge its extremists, and return to the center-right position of its roots. Hopefully, to again balance the system out in 2014 or 2016; before the pendulum swings too far the other way.

I don’t want a permanent Democratic majority. I want a functional two-party system with give and take from both sides resulting in actual governance that works in aggregate for the betterment of the citizenry.  We do not have that now. And we don’t because one party has checked out of the game. The notion that “both sides do it” is a false equivalence. The Republican party has abdicated its responsibility to govern or even functionally participate in any government it does not control.  It has pretty much given up on appealing to (or even tolerating) anyone other than white Christian males.  It needs to remake itself or yield to a new party that will fill the void it leaves behind.  The only way it will get that message is if it is resoundingly defeated.  And not just at the Presidential level.  If the GOP does okay at the federal and state level excepting Romney, it will read that as a failure to go with somebody more radical like Santorum. It only gets the message if it goes down in flames. And to be clear, the only reason I want it to go down in flames is so its old moderate reasonable self rises from the ashes.

I want the Republican party back.  I don’t know what the hell that thing is hiding behind the elephant right now. But I’m not voting for it.

The GOP Hostage Situation

Photo by Parachutegurl, cropped by Gridge

Ezra Klein makes the somewhat disturbing argument that even if you disagree with every one of Mitt Romney’s policies, there’s a chance he’s still the best candidate to lift the economy in 2013.

The essential thesis is that what Romney will do in the short term isn’t much different than what Obama has already proposed.  However, Obama is being stonewalled by the GOP controlled House, and it is unlikely the Democrats will retake the House even if Obama is reelected.  Meanwhile, it’s very likely that a Romney win will be accompanied by Republicans retaining the House and very possibly getting a Senate majority to boot.  The reasonable bet is that the GOP would rally around policies offered by a Republican President, while they would continue the blockade against substantively those same policies when offered by Obama.

What Klein seems to be trying hard not to say is that the GOP is holding the economy hostage right now.  Elect Romney and they’ll let it live.  Reelect Obama, and they’ll let it fall off the looming fiscal cliff.

What’s disturbing is, I don’t think Klein is wrong.  Still the notion of rewarding the GOP for this sort of behavior remains unthinkable.  As much as I want the economy to recover, I cannot and will not support the sort of politics that says either I’m winning or I will exist to destroy you.  The Republicans need to be taught a lesson here.  They need to know that there are times they will be in the majority and times they will not be.  But in all those cases, we the people expect them to do their goddamned jobs and work in our best interests.

The only way that lesson is learned is if the GOP gets severely spanked in 2012 at the state and federal levels.  Yes, the time may come some years down the road when the Dems need to be similarly spanked, but that is not the case now.  All things are not equal. Yes, there is still too much special interest money in politics. Yes, there are problems with the Fed, the banking industry, the filibuster, and other intractable issues.  But none of that changes the elemental reality that one of the parties is currently holding the system hostage until it is put back in power.  This is something we can fix. Now. And easily.

And just maybe, should we succeed in giving the Democrats control of the government, they can enact the same economy saving short term policies without rewarding the GOP for putting a gun to our heads.  Wouldn’t that be just a little satisfying?

Primetime on The Potomac Shore

Rep. Jim Cooper
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN)

NY Times columnist Joe Nocera recounts the tale of whom he calls the last moderate in Congress.  Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) is an unabashed Blue-Dog Democrat with a sobering perspective on the dysfunction that exists under the Capitol Dome.

To Cooper, the true villain is not the Tea Party; it’s Newt Gingrich. In the 1980s, when Tip O’Neill was speaker of the House, “Congress was functional,” Cooper told me. “Committees worked. Tip saw his role as speaker of the whole House, not just the Democrats.”


Gingrich was a new kind of speaker: deeply partisan and startlingly power-hungry. “His first move was to get rid of the Democratic Study Group, which analyzed bills, and which was so trusted that Republicans as well as Democrats relied on it,” Cooper recalled. “This was his way of preventing us from knowing what we were voting on. Today,” he added, “the ignorance around here is staggering. Nobody has any idea what they’re voting on.”


“This is not a collegial body anymore,” he said. “It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred. They believe the worst lies about the other side. Two senators stopped by my office just a few hours ago. Why? They had a plot to nail somebody on the other side. That’s what Congress has come to.”

I’d like to be shocked, but this is simply confirming the obvious truths we are loathe to accept… loathe because in principle the government is us. It is of, by, and for the people.  Unfortunately, rather than the best in us, Congress has come to manifest the darkness in our souls most of us dare not show the world.

In many respects, it it simply another embodiment of Reality TV…  an endless parade of backstabbing, bitch-slapping, and name calling.  A performance we profess to hate, but in practice, won’t turn off.  And as much as I’d like to fault all the Congressional Snooki wannabees out there, ultimately we are the ones responsible for the “success” of The Potomac Shore.

[thanks to MB for finding Nocera’s NY Times column]

What 2013 Brings…

2013It seems pretty clear that nothing much useful will happen in Washington until the 2012 elections are over.  As Senate Leader Mitch McConnell put it so succinctly, Job 1 for the GOP is to make sure Obama is a one-term President.  All legislative actions or inactions up to the elections are dedicated to that goal, irrespective of the implications to the economy or the well-being of the country.  If you think that’s not how it’s playing out, then… well… you just aren’t paying attention.

But what about after the elections?  What happens then?  On the Congressional side, probably pretty little.  It’s highly unlikely either party will take both a House majority and a Senate super majority such that they hold dominion over the whole of Congress.  This means that in any scenario, the GOP may at least continue to be the party of “no” if they so choose.

So it all basically comes down to the race for the White House.  Come 2013, either Obama will be a second-term President, or we will experience the administration of Republican President [insert name here].  Clearly, if [insert name here] is elected, then the Congressional GOP will be all about getting things done.  But should it be Obama again, will the GOP lessen it’s determination to play for politics rather than in the interest of the country?  History would suggest they won’t.

Even though Obama would not be eligible for a third term, a successful second Obama term could reflect well on whatever Democrat runs in 2016.  And the GOP will be ever more committed to taking the White House back in 2016.  That will be their new Job 1.  Recall that the GOP witch hunt against Clinton did not let up during his second term.  Hell, they impeached him in the middle of that term.

For all intents and purposes, since the Clinton administration the GOP acts as if they do not acknowledge the legitimacy of a Democratic President.  Under Obama, they have taken it to new levels.  Rather than simply attacking the man, which was the primary Clinton-era strategy, they now attack the country.  The GOP correctly recognizes that the President is held responsible for the well-being of the country, be it good or bad, and they use that to their advantage.  They have demonstrated repeatedly they are willing to take the country hostage for political gain.

The 2012 elections will be more of the same.  Essentially the message is that we can elect Republicans or we can suffer for four more years, and they will see to that.

This is not an assertion that Democratic policies are good and Republican policies are bad.  Nor is this an assertion that Democrats are pure and chaste while Republicans are corrupt and evil.

We operate in a society governed essentially by the cooperation of two parties who compete, but play amicably with each other.  In many ways the game is the thing.  For the fans, it’s not about who wins or loses, but that the game goes on.  Everyone likes to see their team win, but there is still value to the game even in a loss, and there is always the prospect of the next game.  But if one team starts playing outside the conventional rules to rig the outcome. If one team starts saying that if they don’t win, then they’ll take their ball and go home.  Then the game loses its value… and we all suffer as a result.

We have reached a point where as fans we need to force the teams to start playing by the conventional rules.  We must demand that while we expect them to play their hearts out, we ultimately expect them to play for the love of the sport, not simply for victory.  Or the alternative may be we need to just dump this sport altogether and start playing a new one.

The GOP may be running out of feet to shoot

National Lampoon Cover
Don't make us resort to drowning kittens!

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to stand by his claim that Job 1 for Congressional Republicans is to defeat Obama in 2012.  Yet the question looms, how far are they willing to go to make that happen?  Recent history suggests, pretty damn far.

To understand what’s going on, you have to first recognize that the GOP is beholden to two major groups.  On the one hand they are funded by big business and the wealthy businessmen created therein.  The interests of this group define the overall agenda and goals for the party.

On the other hand, the foot soldiers at the polls are largely made up of blue-collars, religious fundamentalists, and seniors.  This group is necessary because, come November, you have to have lots of bodies show up to vote for you.  But they are ultimately fodder as far as the policy agenda goes.  They get tossed a rousing speech, a few sound bites, and an occasional red meat issue and it keeps them fired up and loyal. I’m somewhat reminded of Dennis Hooper’s line from Waterworld where he launches into a motivational tirade for his crew and they all storm off below decks to row their hearts out.  He’s asked, “So which way we rowin’?” And he replies, “I don’t have a goddamn clue. Don’t worry, they’ll row for a month before they figure out I’m fakin’ it.”

Now consider, the GOP won handily in 2012 on their promise of jobs, jobs, jobs.  Then, once in office, immediately focused on Obamacare and abortion.  Why?  For starters, creating jobs is hard. Especially when the economy is in a demand slump and the interest rates are bumping the zero-bound. The only solution is federal deficit spending, and they sure as hell weren’t going there.  After all, deficits are bad.  Not for the reasons often touted, but because ultimately deficits have to get repaid through taxes—something their corporate benefactors are not fond of—especially when corporate profits and CEO salaries are soaring.  Which brings us to the second point.  Among their fodder constituents, abortion and Obamacare are both reviled.  So the strategy was essentially to distract one group while appeasing the other.

Next up is the Paul Ryan budget.  No one in the GOP thought the plan had a snowflake’s chances in hell of passing, yet they lined up behind it in droves.  Why?  Two reasons.  First, the plan was a message to the corporate benefactors.  This was a wish list for the privatization of government programs and tax cuts that all serve to line the pockets of the folks who in turn fund the Republicans.  By standing behind it, they were assuring the benefactors they had their backs.  Secondly, the plan was political.  Actually passing a plan means you can be evaluated down the road for its efficacy.  Proposing a plan that can’t pass puts you in a position down the road to say that things suck because nobody listened to your ideas.  Politically this was a much more powerful position to be in.

However, the GOP underestimated their fodder constituents.  You’d think they’d have learned from Bush’s crash and burn on Social Security privatization, but not so much. They tried to couch the language, but the public saw through that.  The result being that Ryan’s budget is now enormously unpopular because it is recognized to fundamentally change Medicare.  It turns out that when fodder folks talk about support for smaller government and less spending, they don’t mean to include programs from which they benefit directly.  The message sent to Republicans in NY’s 26th District special election was overwhelmingly, mess with Medicare and we will vote your ass out.  This was the GOP’s first shot to its own foot.  It’s limping, and looking for a path back to hale and healthy. (Gee, I hope they can afford medical insurance.)

Still, the scary specter on the horizon is the debt ceiling.  If the Ryan budget was a pistol shot to the left foot, the debt ceiling is a hacksaw poised above the right knee.  All the sane people (which is not all of the people) on both sides of the aisle agree the ceiling must be raised.  To not do so would be economically disastrous with long-term consequences.  Even Wall Street is saying this has to happen. Both sides also recognize the Republicans are simply taking an opportunistic hostage to gain political advantage.  This is a dog they clearly don’t want to shoot, but if you think they just might be crazyenough, maybe you’ll buy the magazine anyway.

Again, why are they playing it this way?  And again, there are a couple of forces at work here.  On the one hand, the debt ceiling is enormously unpopular.  In fairness, understanding the nuances of the impact of the debt ceiling on the macroeconomic health of the U.S. economy is hard to capture in a sound bite, and most people lack the interest or the time to delve into the details.  Besides, the GOP has already established with the fodder constituents that deficits are bad. So selling a refusal to move on the debt ceiling is duck soup.  Besides, if they can get major concessions from Democrats, they will be in the politically favorable position of being able to crow about their accomplishments.  But there are more subtle and insidious forces at work here.

Everyone acknowledges that Obama’s reelection hopes hinge on the economy.  The last thing the GOP wants is for the economy to make any demonstrable progress, especially in the area of jobs, wages, or anything felt directly by their fodder constituents, prior to 2012.  Obama’s demise (Job 1) is directly contingent on the majority of Americans feeling substantive economic pain going in to the election booth.  The GOP is talking about needing $2 trillion dollars in cuts as ransom to get them to release the debt ceiling.  Those cuts cannot be achieved without significant job losses (both government and downstream private sector jobs as well) in addition to major entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.  This exacerbates the demand slump the economy is in, and pretty much guarantees pain for middle America, and what will border on inhumanity to the poor, disabled, and unemployed.

The gambit here is that Republicans can successfully hang the 2012 economic conditions on Obama—that their fodder constituents will blame their plight on “Obama’s wild spending spree” rather than on Republicans draconian budget cuts.  And you can bet there will be additional tax cuts for corporations and the rich included in any debt ceiling as well, which will seal the love of the GOP benefactors.  This is arguably the sweet spot for the GOP going in to the elections.

However, the downside is they are playing chicken with investors by holding the debt ceiling hostage.  Wall Street and foreign investors alike certainly recognize individually that raising the U.S. debt ceiling is a matter of when, not if.  But what the investors realize is that the market behaves like a herd of buffalo rather than as a single rational actor.  Everyone may realize that long term there’s no danger, but if one animal spooks and heads out, the herd will react and follow, trampling all of us in its wake.  This means the benefactor constituents are justifiably nervous about this brinksmanship.  They can’t control all the buffalo, so everyone is tip-toeing about hoping to keep everyone else calm.  Should someone spook, the results will be disastrous.  But the devastation will not be just to our economy.  The benefactors will doubtless bail on the GOP, who’s political ploy just cost them billions.  If this happens, the Republicans will have effectively lopped off their right leg.

This is high stakes poker.  The GOP may win at the polls.  The corporate benefactors may win, lose, or break even.  The rest of us will lose.  The only path here on which we win would be if Democrats refused to bargain, called the Republicans bluff, and got them to fold.  It’s pretty clear that won’t happen.

Is this view overly cynical?  Perhaps.  Maybe the GOP is not behaving with this much premeditation.  Perhaps they are instead just ignorant and reckless or opportunistically sociopathic.  But any way you slice it, unless you’re in the GOP’s corporate benefactor class, you voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Col. Sanders.