Saturday, May 04, 2013

What To Do About A GOP That Has Devolved Into Intransigent Extremism?


Joe Conason takes on the moronic Beltway adage that "everyone is equally at fault" for the nation's problems by pointing out that the most salient fact in American political life is (and for some time has been) the intransigent extremism of the Republican Party.
Whatever the punditocracy may imagine, there is no way for Obama to force his agenda on the Republicans in the House and the Senate, who range from scheming partisans like Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor to Tea Party zealots like Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann. Unlike Abraham Lincoln or Lyndon Johnson, the two brilliant manipulators with whom he is sometimes compared and found wanting, the president is not equipped to bribe, blackmail, or herd in the style of those Machiavellian chief executives. If he were so equipped-- and indeed used his power as ruthlessly as Lincoln or Johnson-- the same pundits who now complain that he isn’t controlling the agenda would shriek about his misuse of power.

...What Obama evidently doesn’t understand, despite years of bitter experience, is the significance of that right-wing extremism for someone like him, whose nature is to accept differences and seek compromise. Unable to negotiate with a reasonable counterpart on either side of the Hill, he too frequently negotiates with himself-- whether over Obamacare, the debt ceiling, the budget, deficit reduction, taxes, or “reforming” Social Security.

Yet whenever he discards a progressive position, such as the public option in health care, or adopts a conservative position, such as reducing Social Security cost-of-living increases, he only succeeds in demoralizing his base. Meanwhile, rejection by the Republicans is preordained.

So what is left for President Obama to do if he wishes to see any of his second-term agenda enacted? By now he ought to have noticed that when he speaks out firmly on behalf of progressive principles, in support of working families, his polling numbers improve and his power increases. (And whenever he vacillates, his numbers diminish and his authority weakens.)

Yesterday we saw a resurgent fascist party in England, UKIP, make huge headway against the political Establishment, primarily by capitalizing on crude nationalism and rabid anti-immigrant sentiment. When David Cameron, whose Conservative Party lost big, was asked by a journalist if he regrets referring to the fruitcakes and clowns who ran on the UKIP ticket as fruitcakes and clowns, he responded, “It’s no good insulting a political party that people have chosen to vote for. Of course they should be subject, and they will be subject, to proper scrutiny of their policies and their plans. But we need to show respect for people who've taken the choice to support this party. And we're going to work really hard to win them back." Cameron finds himself in a situation not unlike the hapless John Boehner. When you start feeding the beast of hatred and bigotry some red meat, the beast is never satiated. The beast will inevitably eat you as well. And that brings us to Timothy Eagan's OpEd in yesterday's NY Times, about how the crazies-- the U.S. version of the UKIP-- have taken over the House of Representatives. Appropriately enough, he starts with Gohmert, certainly one of the craziest of the lot, right up there with Broun, King, Bachmann and Stockman.
Not long ago, the congressman from northeast Texas, Louie Gohmert, was talking about how the trans-Alaska oil pipeline improved the sex lives of certain wild animals-- in his mind, the big tube was an industrial-strength aphrodisiac. “When the caribou want to go on a date,” he told a House hearing, “they invite each other to head over to the pipeline.”

Gohmert, consistently on the short list for the most off-plumb member of Congress, has said so many crazy things that this assertion passed with little comment. Last year, he blamed a breakdown of Judeo-Christian values for the gun slaughter at a cinema in Colorado. Last week, he claimed the Muslim Brotherhood had deep influence in the Obama administration, and that the attorney general-- the nation’s highest law enforcer-- sympathized with terrorists.

You may wonder how he gets away with this. You may also wonder how Gohmert can run virtually unopposed in recent elections. The answer explains why we have an insular, aggressively ignorant House of Representatives that is not at all representative of the public will, let alone the makeup of the country.

Much has been said about how the great gerrymander of the people’s House-- part of a brilliant, $30 million Republican action plan at the state level-- has now produced a clot of retrograde politicians who are comically out of step with a majority of Americans. It’s not just that they oppose things like immigration reform and simple gun background checks for violent felons, while huge majorities support them.

Or that, in the aggregate, Democrats got 1.4 million more votes for all House positions in 2012 but Republicans still won control with a cushion of 33 seats.

Or that they won despite having the lowest approval rating in modern polling, around 10 percent in some surveys. Richard Nixon during Watergate and B.P.’s initial handling of a catastrophic oil spill had higher approval ratings.

But just look at how different this Republican House is from the country they are supposed to represent. It’s almost like a parallel government, sitting in for some fantasy nation created in talk-radio land.

As a whole, Congress has never been more diverse, except the House majority. There are 41 black members of the House, but all of them are Democrats. There are 10 Asian-Americans, but all of them are Democrats. There are 34 Latinos, a record-- and all but 7 are Democrats. There are 7 openly gay or lesbian members, all of them Democrats.

Only 63 percent of the United States population is white. But in the House Republican majority, it’s 96 percent white. Women are 51 percent of the nation, but among the ruling members of the House, they make up just 8 percent. (It’s 30 percent on the Democratic side.)

It’s a stretch, by any means, to call the current House an example of representative democracy. Now let’s look at how the members govern:

To date, seven bills have been enacted. Let’s see, there was the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship act-- “ensuring the stability of the helium market.” The Violence Against Women Act was renewed, but only after a majority of Republicans voted against it, a rare instance of letting the full House decide on something that the public favors. Just recently, they rushed through a change to help frequent air travelers-- i.e., themselves-- by fixing a small part of the blunt budget cuts that are the result of their inability to compromise. Meal assistance to the elderly, Head Start for kids and other programs will continue to fall under the knife of sequestration.

On the economy, the Republican majority has been consciously trying to derail a fragile recovery. Their first big salvo was the debt ceiling debacle, which resulted in the lowering of the credit rating for the United States. With sequestration-- which President Obama foolishly agreed to, thinking Congress would never go this far-- the government has put a wheel-lock on a car that keeps trying to get some traction.

Meanwhile, not a day passes without some member of this ruling majority saying something outrageous. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, for example, has endorsed the far-side-of-the-moon conspiracy theory that the government is buying up all the bullets to keep gun owners from stocking their home arms depots. As for Gohmert, earlier this year he nominated Allen West, a man who isn’t even a member of Congress (he lost in November) to be Speaker of the House. Harvey, the invisible rabbit, was not available.

Gohmert, like others in the House crazy caucus, has benefited from a gerrymandered district. He can do anything short of denouncing Jesus and get re-elected.

The Beltway chorus of the moment blames President Obama for his inability to move his proposals through a dunderheaded Congress. They wonder how Republicans would be treating a silken-tongued charmer like Bill Clinton if he were still in the White House. We already know: not a single Republican voted for Clinton’s tax-raising budget, the one that led to our last federal surplus. Plus, they impeached him; his presidency was saved only in the Senate.
Listen to how conservative Republican Senator Pat Toomey explained it:

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