Critical Mass

12.23.12

Michael Tomasky: The GOP Brings Politics to a Crisis Point

With their refusal to vote for Boehner’s Plan B, Republicans have definitively shown that they’d rather sabotage democracy than govern. How can they be stopped?

Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern. They are an ongoing, at this point almost mundane, threat to democracy, subverting and preventing progress the American people clearly desire across a number of fronts. They have to be stopped, and the only people who can really stop them are corporate titans and Wall Streeters, who surely now are finally beginning to see that America’s problem is not Barack Obama and his alleged “socialism,” but a political party that has become psychologically incapable of operating within the American political system.

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On MSNBC’s “The Cycle,” global business editor Daniel Gross says that “House Republicans have to actually vote for something.+

We all know that the GOP has become much more extreme in the last few years, and, taking the longer historical view, the last 20 or 25 years. But when that gets said, it usually elides an important point—the important point. It’s usually meant to refer to the party’s policy positions. And the move to the hard right is obviously true along those lines.

But politics, and certainly political parties, aren’t only about policy positions. There’s also the question of what I’ll call process, which means simply how a party practices politics on a day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year basis. This isn’t a question of the positions per se, but how the party attempts to advance and defend them.

And it’s on process far, far more than on policy that the Republican Party has gone nutso. You know this story, too, so I needn’t rehearse the details, except to describe the current end point, which is that to the GOP today, the Democrats must be denied any victory by any means necessary. The Republicans unwilling to vote for Plan B weren’t in the main loathe to give Boehner a win. The problem was that that particular Boehner win might have led to an Obama win. That was the issue that drove them.

In that sense, all these people saying they learned no lesson from the election are completely wrong. They learned a lesson, all right, but the lesson they took away is just the opposite of the kind of lesson normal small-d democrats would learn. Normal small-d democrats would learn that you’ve lost twice now, and while you should still stick to your principles of course, it was also time to play a little ball. But these Republicans learned that they have to be even more obstructionist. Their ideas are unpopular, their America is dying. But by God, they’re standing until the last man! They’re Paulus’s soldiers at Stalingrad, surrounded by an enemy that embodies evil—and is fated to outlast them. This is how they’ve been trained to think.

So they’ll give no ground. People are now saying that the only way to avoid going off the cliff is for Boehner to let the Senate bill come to the floor and let it be passed mostly by Democrats. But what reason is there to believe that even 20 or 25 Republicans would vote for a bill? And please, don’t tell me “because a large majority of Americans would support it.” That doesn’t matter to them.

And next year, in January or February, when Joe Biden’s task force completes its work and we have new gun legislation? We have now rafts of new polling showing that clear majorities will support the kinds of proposals that are likely to be in any such legislation. But that won’t matter. They have the votes to block, and they will. And then perhaps Obama will attempt immigration reform, again with a solid majority of Americans behind him. They showed a few post-election signs of yielding here, so we’ll see. But as the issue heats up, the usual sources will start warning even the softer-hearted GOP legislators that a vote for immigration is a vote for Obama, you quisling, and if you waver on this you can certainly expect a primary challenge.

They didn’t come to Washington to govern. They came to sabotage. So our working assumption must be whatever the issue, sabotage is what they’re going to do.

And they can do it all they want. Our founders didn’t assume that a cadre of people of such immense bad faith and cynicism would ever come to control key levers of government; they built a system that would work, albeit slowly, in the hands of people of reasonably good will. It’s a system that people of bad will can subvert and stop from functioning.

Someone has to tell them enough. The only people I can think of with the power to do so are the high-profile figures of Wall Street and the corporate world. They’re the only people these Republicans might conceivably listen to. They should have done it—and some did—last year during the debt-limit hostage-taking. But then, most of corporate American was still wagering that the Republicans could beat Obama in 2012. Now that that hasn’t happened, now that we’re four years away from another election and Obama will be retiring anyway, and now that the Republicans have demonstrated that they are interested in no compromise at all in any way shape or form, maybe the business elite will finally show some responsibility.

Once upon a time, the statists—Roosevelt and his brains trusters—helped save capitalism from the Bolsheviks of the left. Today, the capitalists have to help save the state. This time the enemy is the Bolsheviks of the right, our current GOP. They’re taking us over the fiscal cliff, and they’ll do far worse without an intervention.