12 January 2015
The Dodo is Extinct…The Wacko Bird is Alive and Well
“You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot, and we will not for sure shoot this hostage.”
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Another national election season is upon us and the field of potential Republican presidential candidates is as thick as locusts. Given Republicans’ approach to problem solving (remember the government shutdown?) does the GOP candidate exist who would not alienate the vast majority of the electorate?
There used to be a saying in national politics: Democrats fall in love; Republicans fall in line. The first part is probably still true. Democrats are less likely to vote for a candidate purely because he/she is their party’s nominee if the candidate does not inspire passion. Republicans, on the other hand could always be counted on to turn out the vote, weather be damned, no matter who their nominee was, because theirs was a top-down organization. This disciplined approach to electioneering served the party well for decades and that, coupled with their fund-raising advantage and superior knack for appealing to the everyman, made them a force to be reckoned with.
Something has changed. These days the Republican party looks a lot like the maniacal melange of characters gleefully portrayed by Tony Collett, whose protagonist, Tara, suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) in Showtime’s “The United States of Tara.” The title of the show is ironic but, then, so is the GOP, self-identified as the party of fiscal responsibility.
So, how did the party that could be counted on never to air its dirty laundry in public become the disfunctional family whose internal disagreements spill into the street and wake up the neighbors?
Dog Day Afternoon
In August of 2013, 80 House Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner suggesting that he use the threat of a government shutdown to defund the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). (Charles Krauthammer dubbed them the “Suicide Caucus.”) The Suicide Caucus was largely composed of Representatives of southern and upper midwestern, (mostly) red states. None of these states are on the West coast or in the major population centers of the East coast and New England. These 80 House districts represented just 18% of the US population – though the US population they represent is not representative of the US. These districts are whiter, more rural, and far more Republican than the country as a whole. Despite widespread criticism of the tactic from the more moderate wing of the party, the Suicide Caucus, egged on by fellow “wacko bird” Senator Ted Cruz, took the US Government and the world economy hostage. Standard and Poors estimated that the shutdown cost the US economy $24 billion and substantially reduced fourth quarter GDP. True to it’s nickname, the Suicide Caucus went down in flames, though its demise was not nearly as dramatic, nor as noble, as they wanted it to be.
“We’re not going to be disrespected”
Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind) to The Washington Examiner.
(He was wrong.)
The Suicide Caucus’s initial demand to defund Obamacare as a condition for agreeing to a budget was quickly abandoned as unobtainable, and the ensuing drama devolved into a deluge of disfunctional demands which decreased in relevance and legitimacy as the fiasco wore on.
The ransom note(s): (Courtesy of Rachel Maddow. The comments are mine.)
- Defund Obamacare
- Delay Obamacare
- Delay the Individual Mandate
- Deny Coverage for the President
- Deny coverage for the cabinet
- Deny coverage to congressional staffers
- Deny birth control coverage
- Means testing for Medicare (Actually, a good idea. How did that get in there?)
- Change federal employee pensions
- Approve the Keystone pipeline
- Expand oil drilling
- Block net neutrality
- Tort reform
- Weaken regs for coal-fired power plants
- Tax code changes (Also a good idea but not the way they intended)
- Thwart EPA coal-ash regulations
- Repeal the medical device tax
- Change rules on debt ceiling
The GOP has long been the party of fiscal and social conservatism. This, even though social conservatives, who tend to be religious, often don’t have a clue as to what fiscal conservatism is all about. And many country club Republicans only pay lip service to conservative social values, for the sake of party unity. Mainstream fiscal conservatives are more likely to live on one of the coasts rather than in the rural bible belt, the domain of social conservatives. Monied Republicans are only loosely tied to rural conservatives by a shared dread of change. Change is bad for your bottom line—or it might be. (Why take the chance?) If you are socially conservative you don’t want change because things are the way God intended (else, why would they be this way?) and you are bound to follow God’s will.
The issue of gay marriage may be the quintessential example of the divide between the two factions. Does anyone suppose that the cause of gay marriage (which is near to becoming the law of the land) would have made the gains it has in the last few years without the support of many mainstream Republicans? Fiscal conservatives, business people, have gone public, first with tepid expressions of tolerance of gay unions but, increasingly, with full-fledged endorsements of gay marriage. Why? The short answer is that gay marriage is good for the economy.
Listening to the rantings of the Know Nothing Suicide Caucus one was struck by the other worldliness of their point of view. The “keep the government’s hands off my Medicare” ignorance of Tea Party constituents would be amusing if it weren’t also echoed by their elected representatives—at least when it serves their purpose. Mainstream Republicans are no better. After all, they don’t necessarily disagree with the Know Nothings’ point of view, only their tactics. Their insistence that Obamacare is a “train wreck” that is “doomed to fail,” that it will “bankrupt the country” and is “causing thousands of people to lose their jobs” before it was implemented, mind you, borders on delusional. The plain fact is that the state of health care in the US was a “train wreck” that was bankrupting the country and causing thousands of people to lose their jobs. Not to mention that it isn’t any better than health care elsewhere that costs a third as much.