Monday, July 11, 2011

We No Longer Have Two Parties

The GOP really cannot be called a political party anymore. A classical political science definition of a party goes something like this: a coalition of political actors who organize to contest elections and who organize to govern once in office. And that latter part is where the GOP falls short. They just don't have a plan to govern, any interest in governing, or any plan to make a plan to govern.

This has been clear to me for some time but today's statements from Republican congressional leaders really brought it all home. Today, John Boehner and company jumped the shark (for information on the meaning of this phrase, see here) by saying that they have sacrificed in the debt limit increase negotiations by just agreeing to consider raising the debt limit in the first place. House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), said "A vote to increase the debt limit in this country is an existential question for a fiscal conservative."

If it is so "existential" for Cantor, why did he vote to increase the debt limit in June 2002 ... and again in May 2003 ... and again in November 2004 ... and again in March 2006 ... and again in September 2007? Perhaps he misspoke. He meant to say, "A SIXTH vote to increase the debt limit is an existential question."

Having dismissed Cantor as completely disingenuous (the debt ceiling has been raised 10 times in the last 10 years), let's consider a few points about the current situation:

1) Raising the debt ceiling is a made up issue. It is not necessary to be doing this. Democrats (Dick Gephardt to be exact) solved this a long time ago when they created a rule to effectively raise the debt ceiling when a budget resolution is agreed to. Republicans brought the debt ceiling votes back ... just to create pressure and crises like this one.

2) The President has met the Republicans more than halfway. He's met them about 75% of the way towards their position to be exact. He's proposed a package that is 75% spending cuts including deep cuts to entitlements sacred to Democrats and just 25% increases in revenues by eliminating many of the Bush tax cuts ... a year and a half from now. That's right. None of the revenue increases Obama is talking about would even kick in until 2013. I could go on. But the point here is that the Republicans are not a negotiating partner. They are seeking to accept a surrender. They are not willing to give in on anything at all.

3) Some Republicans have openly questioned whether the failure to increase the debt limit would be so bad. The Republican leadership has not gone quite that batshit crazy (it is a technical term) but they DO say they will not vote for a debt limit increase that has ANY tax increases on ANYONE and they will not vote for a debt limit increase without massive cuts to entitlements. This position is not so different. I call it "batshit crazy light." They accuse Obama of wanting to increase taxes on average Americans (not true) and of engaging in a spending binge (not true). They also argue the deficit can be tackled by simply cutting spending. This is technically true but would require such deep cuts that Americans have already overwhelmingly rejected the approach. Most importantly, the Republicans claim the American people do not support ANY tax increase. This is just not true. Americans do support "ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy."

So, in sum, we have an entire political party that has made up a fake issue to provoke a crisis (point #1), that has no sense of reality or facts (point #3) and, now that the crisis is here, will not agree to anything other than 100% of what they want (point #2).

This is not a political party. It is an electoral organization at best. At worst, they are a group of economic terrorists. This was the label Andrew Sullivan used a couple of weeks ago to describe John Boehner and his gang. At the time I thought it was a funny label and provocative. Now I think it is just plain correct. Terroists do things like strap explosives to themselves, threaten everyone around them, have only the haziest sense of reality, facts, and rationality, and it is, of course, impossible to negotiate with them. Aside from the physical explosives, what is different about what John Boehner and Eric Cantor are doing? They're threating to wreck the economy (including lots of damage to the powerful interests supporting the Republicans), they have no sense of facts or reality, and they are simply not a negotiating partner.

The only silver lining in all this is that Republicans are still an electoral organization. What I haven't been able to figure out in all this is why Wall Street and other powerful financial interests have allowed Republicans to take their game of chicken this far. Smart people I've posed this question to respond by saying these powerful interests have already hedged their bets and have come up with ways to make money if the government defaults. I don't quite buy that argument. It is not clear to me how that works financially for any but a very small number of people.

Maybe I'm just not cynical enough yet.

UPDATE: Making a similar argument to the one I've laid out above, Jonathan Rauch posted a short piece today declaring "these people are dangerous" and "Republicans ought to remember that nothing would whisk them back to long-term minority status faster than being perceived by the broad middle as unfit to govern."


Russ deForest said...

McConnell's plan to let Obama shoulder all the responsibility for raising the debt limit seems a lot more reasonable from this point of view. As much as it's designed to let Republicans completely off the hook for their own self-inflicted crisis, it does seem like this House just isn't going to move any reasonable bill. The Bachmann wing of the party doesn't have enough economic sense to run a town the size of Wasilla.

Russ deForest said...

It does appear from this NYT article this afternoon that McConnell is genuinely concerned about the fallout for Republicans if something isn't done about the debt limit. I take the infighting among Republicans as a good sign generally. And despite the unpopularity of the measure, I'd prefer Obama to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally to the give aways on spending in 'the grand bargin'.

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