How Not to Govern in America, A Continuing Series

Does your family look like this? Sorry, the Republican Party doesn’t approve. By Jim Bob Duggar (Email from Jim Bob Duggar) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The most recent Republican push to shut down the government is about Planned Parenthood, the reproductive health and family planning provider that was recently the victim of sting videos purporting to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has consistently denied this, and the groups and lawmakers going after Planned Parenthood have so far failed to prove their claims. That is why the congressional hearing yesterday became a stunt in which Republicans harassed Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards about her salary, the organization’s travel expenses, and made false claims about Planned Parenthood services.

This hearing is not about governing. House Speaker John Boehner, for example, knows full well that President Obama would veto any legislation taking federal support away from Planned Parenthood, and that the American public overwhelmingly supports Obama and Planned Parenthood in this fight.

Instead, I think Amanda Marcotte gets this right in a piece over at Talking Points Memo. This is a play to the Republican anti-choice base, which is obsessed with abortion and policing the sex lives of women. Marcotte explains how the hearing demonstrated that Republicans either do not understand the true nature of the services Planned Parenthood provides, or, more likely, they do understand and it’s precisely the family planning to which they object.

Either way, this is yet another bad reason to shut down the government, and again shows lack of seriousness on the part of the modern Republican Party.

How Not to Govern in America

Yes, John, I’m still the president. No, John, I won’t sign a bill repealing all of the Democratic Party’s achievements. (Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
John Boehner’s decision to resign as Speaker later next month can help explain why the Republican Party in its current state is incapable of governing. As Jonathan Chait points out, Boehner resigned/was ousted because of extremely unrealistic expectations that he would, or could, force Obama to cave to conservative demands.

The story here is quite simple. Obama won a decisive election in 2008 and enjoyed unified Democratic control of Congress when sworn in as President in January 2009. Obama and Democrats in the Senate and the House managed to pass several important laws, including the momentous Affordable Care Act, without any meaningful cooperation from the Republican minority. The Republican minority managed to stifle several other important bills by abusing the filibuster.

The midterm election of 2010 featured a much whiter and older electorate than that of 2008, and Republicans managed to take over the House. The 2010 election ushered in the era in which we currently live, where no meaningful legislation gets passed, and Republicans repeatedly threaten to shut down the government over whatever is their pet issue of the day.

What’s the point here? Republicans accept election results when they win, and ignore them when they lose. They refuse to compromise in any way whether they’ve won or lost an election. If they’ve won, they insist that their opponents accede to all of their demands. If they’ve lost, they refuse to negotiate, then whine like hell when Democrats actually manage to pass something without their help. This is no way to approach governance, especially in a country with our particular system of government.

The modern Republican Party, or at least its conservative base, does not seem to understand the structure of the American political system. There is a deliberate separation of powers when it comes to lawmaking. No bill becomes law without being passed by both houses of Congress and without receiving the president’s signature, unless, of course, both houses of Congress pass the law and can override the president’s veto with two-thirds majorities in both houses. So, a party that refuses to compromise with the other but wants to enact laws must either a) hold majorities in both houses of Congress and the presidency, or b) hold two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress that are willing to override a president’s veto. There is no other way to enact laws in our system of government other than the two just mentioned.

At no point since Obama’s inauguration in 2009 has the Republican Party met either condition. Yet its members refuse to compromise. This is why Boehner repeatedly had to go to House Democrats, hat in hand, begging for the votes needed to pass routine spending legislation. Boehner, because he’s human, is tired of these repeated humiliations.

Well, what’s so crazy about a party winning a significant congressional majority in an election and then demanding a say in legislation? Nothing’s wrong with that, as long as the party is willing to compromise. Here’s what has happened instead.

The 2010 election-winning Republicans triumphantly declared themselves to have a mandate, because the people had spoken, and they claimed the people had said loudly and clearly that they wanted the Affordable Care Act (aka the ACA or Obamacare) repealed and the deficit reduced via spending cuts. Regarding the ACA, obviously, this was a maximal position. Republicans didn’t want to tweak the ACA, and they didn’t want to repeal it and replace it with a different version. They wanted to repeal it, period.

Imagine you are the president and your name is Obama and you are presented with a bill that repeals the law that has become known as Obamacare and you believe that this bill has helped a lot of people (full disclosure: my wife and I now have health insurance thanks to Obamacare). Would you ask, “Where do I sign?” Of course not. And to make matters worse, Democrats still controlled the Senate, and they sure as hell were not going to pass a bill repealing Obamacare.

The 2011 budget negotiations aimed at reducing the deficit is an even better example of Republican intransigence. Boehner had negotiated with Obama a budget leaning heavily on spending cuts to cherished Democratic programs. Obama insisted on including some measures that would raise revenue. Obama knew he couldn’t get the Senate, still under Democratic control, to pass this budget without at least some new revenue. But Republican hardliners refused to accept even this small compromise to their anti-tax agenda, essentially telling Obama that he would either have to accept the Republican budget agenda in its entirety (and in this fantasy land scenario somehow the Senate would accept this as well) or nothing would pass.

Obama said no thanks, and Boehner had to pass a very different budget with the help of Democratic votes. To be fair, this budget was still terrible from a Democrat’s point of view (as evidenced by only half of Democratic House members being willing to vote for it). In the end, though, conservative Republicans’ refusal to compromise backfired and robbed them of their one real opportunity to get a Democratic president to cover their asses and sign a bill cutting spending from Social Security and other important programs.

Now, back to the idea of a mandate. The Republicans did indeed win a landslide election in 2010 and took over the House. This was all the evidence they needed to claim the American people had spoken and that the Republican Party’s agenda should be adopted in its entirety. Again, though, imagine you were Obama or a Senate Democrat. Wait a minute, you would’ve thought, I’m still president and my party still controls the Senate. And wait another minute. Sure, Republicans just scored an impressive victory, but the America that came out to vote in 2010 looked a lot different from the one that swept us to power in 2008. (This is a long-standing phenomenon in which presidential election year electorates skew younger and towards more minority participation, while off presidential election years skew whiter and older). So if you were Obama or a Senate Democrat at this time, you would’ve been wondering why, exactly, you need to dismantle your own programs.

Of course, Obama won reelection overwhelmingly in 2012, giving the lie to Republican mandate claims. Actually, mandate claims by either party are always nonsense. Obama could’ve won every single state in 2012, claimed a mandate, and then still he would’ve confronted a Republican-controlled House with no intentions whatsoever of cooperating on his agenda.

This is why the Republican Party needs to change, or go the way of the Whigs. It is no longer a party interested in governing. Governing in the American political system means making compromises. Today’s Republican Party thinks compromise means “give us everything we want and you get nothing or we will shut down the government.” That’s not compromise. That’s this.

Boehner’s Out and the Crazy Is In

Time to work on that tan. By Keith Allison from Baltimore, USA (John Boehner) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia CommonsS
Wow, this is a big deal. Republican U.S. Representative from the 8th district of Ohio and Speaker of the House since 2011 John Boehner will resign from Congress in late October. The man was one of the most useless Speakers in history and will not be missed. He presided over a Republican majority that repeatedly caused the country to lurch from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis, inflicting unnecessary damage upon the country as a whole and its most vulnerable citizens in particular along the way.

The only thing Boehner ever did that resembled success was his almost total victory over President Obama in 2011 budget negotiations, only to have his own caucus snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Consequently, Obama realized that the Republican Party would never negotiate with him in good faith. If there is an accomplishment to be found anywhere in his tenure, it’s that Boehner was so weak and pathetic that Obama and the Democrats finally got it through their thick skulls that they no longer had to play Charlie Brown to the Republicans’ Lucy:

I’m inclined to think that Congress will become even more dysfunctional without the relatively moderate Boehner in charge of the House. Say what I will about the guy, at least his heart never seemed to be in the stunts he constantly felt he needed to pull in order to placate the Republican base and keep his role as Speaker. If I’m feeling extremely charitable, I’ll point out that Boehner violated the “Hastert Rule” several times in order to pass routine spending measures with the help of Democratic votes over the objections of his right wing. But if the best thing you can say about one of the most powerful people in the country is that he occasionally prevented disasters engineered by his own party, well, I think that speaks for itself.

Some will probably argue that Boehner did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. That a Tea Party-type will now take his place and if we thought we saw gridlock in Washington before, just wait until a true Unicornstitutionist is in charge. That we will regret not having Boehner to kick around anymore. I don’t know. Many people do not understand the true nature of the beast Boehner’s been trying to ride for the last five years, and if his departure opens more eyes to what his party has become, good.

The Unicornstitution

I’d like to do a series of posts explaining why the belief that the Republican Party, in its current incarnation, is capable of governing responsibly is a dangerous myth. Obviously, there’s a large market for irresponsible federal government at the moment, as there was back in 2000 and 2004. A certain bloc of voters actually want ill-informed lightweights like themselves in charge. This and subsequent posts won’t be for those people, a voting bloc amounting to about 30% of the nation’s electorate, as I don’t believe there’s any way to communicate with them effectively.

However, 10-15% of the voting public is open to switching the party for which it votes. Generally speaking, these people like the Democratic Party and its policies better than they like the Republican Party and its policies. These are the kinds of people who a) didn’t vote in 2000 and/or 2004 but say they did and that they voted against Bush, or b) voted for Bush at least once but say they never did. This is a real phenomenon. If people had actually voted for the guy they said they voted for when asked in 2006, John Kerry would have won the election of 2004 in a landslide.

So why do people vote for representatives of a party they disagree with on most issues, regret and swear they never made that vote when it finally becomes clear (like with Bush after Hurricane Katrina) that the person they voted for is incompetent and bad for the country, only to end up interested in voting for that party again?

It’s hard to say. These kinds of voters are not alone in being confused about politics, but they seem more susceptible than others to the myth that it’s necessarily a good thing for the parties to share power, or that it’s necessarily a good thing to vote in a president from the party that hasn’t held the presidency in eight years.

I wonder if clearly explaining how the Republican Party is no longer tethered to reality or capable of responsible governance is a way to reach these voters. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has long been pointing out how “constitutional conservatives” – a self-indulgent label adopted by many Tea Party types – do not in fact seem to know much about the constitution, at all. In a recent piece, Marshall calls this paradox the Unicornstitution, a mythical founding document that exists in the minds of conservatives to justify any crazy idea they want to believe.

The Unicornstitution explains why conservatives do not seem to understand the establishment clause of the first amendment. How else can we explain the fact that conservatives scream about Obama and Democrats waging a war on Christianity while simultaneously conservatives seem unsure or outright hostile to the idea that the practice of Islam is also protected? Or conservatives’ bizarre belief that the first amendment’s speech protections mean that we all have the right to say whatever we want whenever we want and not get criticized for it?

(By the way, as often is the case, The Onion got there early on this issue. In a classic 2009 piece titled “Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines Constitution To Be” we see Unicornstitutional thinking in all its glory.)

Now, maybe a voter agrees with Unicornstitutional thinking, and really does want to elect a government that privileges fundamentalist modes of Christianity over all other religions, to the point of banning certain religions. Maybe this voter really does want to elect people that embrace nullification, a theory that holds that the states (and now, individual or minority blocs of representatives) can simply ignore or invalidate federal laws they don’t like (a theory of government that was used to support the protection of slavery and was definitively shot down by the Civil War).

As stated earlier, I estimate that voters who think this way make up a good 30% of the national electorate, and there’s almost no way to engage them. But the remaining voters, especially those who tend to swing from party to party, really need to understand the facts on the ground here. One of those facts is that the election of a conservative government is an election of people living in a dangerous fantasy land.

Weekend Links

What I wish I was doing this weekend
What I wish I was doing this weekend

No posting here all last week. Lame! We’re in the middle of a marketing campaign to attract new students to our English language school before our fall semester begins on September 20th. Posting will probably be light until we push through and get back to a normal schedule.

Here are some things I was thinking about this week but didn’t really have time to write full posts on.

  • I remember being told how young and stupid I was for opposing both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. Never forget.
  • Speaking of being wrong about Iraq, her foreign policy judgment is the biggest reason I’m glad Hillary Clinton lost in 2008. But she was and still is a pretty good domestic policy candidate, and I think she’s the Democrats’ best chance at the White House next year. So let’s make sure this email scandal, is, you know, a scandal before it derails her candidacy.
  • Lawrence Lessig, who has laudable goals, is not going to achieve his goals by running for president.
  • I really don’t know why people keep insisting that Trump cannot win. Michael Tomasky is a politics writer I like, and here he is reviewing Trump’s new book and trying to explain the big picture.
  • What’s going on with the Ben Carson candidacy?
  • What happened to Scott Walker’s campaign? I love this sentence from a great piece by Jeb Lund on the demise of Walker:
    • “When you start speculating about a US-Canada wall, maybe you should be doing literally anything else; this gig is probably just not for you when your most recent big idea is seeing what happens when you confront a wholly unnecessary problem with a solution that’s completely insane.”
  • One of the big reasons I started this blog is a desire to find a way that explains to people who do not want to believe it that the modern Republican Party is not a party interested in real world governance in any significant way. Just look at some of its candidates’ policies: Jeb Bush insanely promising 4% GDP growth, only to be outdone by Mike Huckabee insanely promising 6% growth; Ben Carson’s inability to understand his own flat tax policy; Scott Walker’s refusal to say what he thinks about many major policy issues (does someone who is running for president not know anything about these issues, or know his opinions are so unpopular that they hurt his chances to win the election? You decide!). We can trace this kind of nonsense back to Mitt Romney supporting “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants, and then even earlier to the W. Bush administration claiming we’d be greeted as liberators in Iraq.
  • Finally, while it may sound flippant or shrill to say things like “today’s conservatism is the opposite of what liberals want today: updated daily,” I believe it’s important to see things how they really are and describe them how they really are. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.

Enjoy the weekend!

Weekend Links

It's the weekend. Here's a monkey riding a monkey.
It’s the weekend. Here’s a monkey riding a monkey.

Enjoy the long weekend. Here are some links:

Bartleby, the Idiot Rowan County Clerk

Hey Kim Davis, what does the Bible say about two dogs applying for marriage licenses in Rowan County, Kentucky? Oh, right, nobody cares. Enjoy jail! By Atle Goutbeek (Atle Goutbeek) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The mind, it reels. Kim Davis is in jail for refusing to do her taxpayer funded job, which is issuing marriage licenses to people who want them and have prepared the right paper work and fees.

Nothing to add to Amanda Marcotte’s take. Read it and don’t feel bad for Davis.