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Rod Dreher: Republicans, Over The Cliff: Noted

Rod Dreher: Republicans, Over The Cliff:

Peter Suderman speaks for me:

What Republicans have right now is a lot of talk. What they don’t have is a workable legislative strategy. Not on Obamacare. Not on the debt. Not on tax reform, the unsustainable entitlement state, or on any of the big domestic policy issues that Republicans say they care about, or that actually confront the nation today. Part of coming up with a plausible strategy is going to be recognizing that right now, the GOP is the minority party in Congress, and that there are limits to what it can meaningfully accomplish until that changes.

They are a barking-mad pack of ideologues, is what they are…. The 2012 elections were their last, best chance to overturn Obamacare, and the country didn’t go for it.

There are other battles to fight. These guys are taking the government and the economy to the brink of crisis, and for what? For the sake of rebel yells and the Lost Cause? Larison:

This approach places great value on zeal and combativeness and isn’t very concerned with success. For that reason, it won’t produce the desired results at an acceptable political price. Cruz has railed against Republican defeatism, but in practice Cruz has made himself the leader of what one might call the defeat caucus.

Here’s Josh Marshall, making a good point:

Right now you might theorize that ‘Obamacare’ has somehow become such an idee fixe on the American right that some sort of cataclysmic confrontation is inevitable. But that theory doesn’t really hold up because for the previous two years it was austerity and dramatic fiscal retrenchment that merited threatening to default on the federal debt to deal with.

For all the ubiquity of political polarizing and heightened partisanship, no honest observer can deny that the rise of crisis governance and various forms of legislative hostage taking comes entirely from the GOP. I hesitate to state it so baldly because inevitably it cuts off the discussion with at least a sizable minority of the political nation. But there’s no way to grapple with the issue without being clear on this single underlying reality. Sufficient evidence of this comes from 2007 and 2008 when Democrats won resounding majorities in Congress and adopted exactly none of these tactics with an already quite unpopular President Bush. This is the reality that finally brought Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, two of DC’s most arbiters of political standards and practices, fastidiously sober, even-handed and high-minded, to finally just throw up their hands mid-last-year and say “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.”


It has become so pervasive that I believe it’s lost on many of us just how far down the road of state breakdown and decay we’ve already gone. It is starting to seem normal what is not normal at all.

That’s it, I think. When I think of the Republican Party, I don’t think of principled conservative legislators who are men and women of vision strategy. I think of ideologues who are prepared to wreck things to get their way. They have confused prudence — the queen of virtues, and the cardinal virtue of conservative politics — with weakness. I know I’m very much a minority among conservatives in this, but the behavior of Congressional Republicans pushed me out of the party two years ago, even though I almost always vote Republican, or withhold my vote. I am not a liberal, and do not want to vote for liberals, especially on social policy. But I told a Louisiana conservative friend the other day that the Congressional Republicans are making me consider the previously unthinkable: throwing my vote away by voting for a Democrat in the special election next month to replace my GOP congressman, who just resigned to take another job. The GOP candidates in this local race are hot and heavy to overthrow Obamacare. I think about how poor this district is — 26 percent of the district lives in poverty, making it one of the poorest Congressional districts in America — and how badly we need jobs and economic growth, and I think: What kind of world do these people live in? 

By the way, political analysts rate the Louisiana 5th district safe Republican; my frustration with the GOP candidates is almost certainly a marginal phenomenon. You could probably put all the conservatives in this district who are fed-up with this mess on my front porch, and still have room for the tuba players from the LSU Tiger Band. Still, there it is. I’m considering voting Democratic not because I believe in the Democrats, but because it has gotten to the point where they don’t unnerve me like the Republicans. As poor as our district is, these guys would make our economic situation even more parlous by shutting the government down to overturn what in any stable political environment would have been a settled law?

Consider one of Russell Kirk’s ten canons of conservative thought:

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

What are the probable long-run consequences of shutting the US Government down over Obamacare? Do the Congressional Republicans care? Do they care what kind of damage they are doing to the ability of Congress to legislate effectively on all kinds of matters? The damage they are doing to the economic stability of the United States? This kind of brinksmanship might — might — have been defensible during the Obamacare fight, but today? I can’t see it. I can’t see any good coming out of this, at least any good that stands to outweigh the bad.

I regret to say how much it disappoints me to see Sen. Rand Paul being so near the center of this drama. At TAC, we don’t have editorial meetings and decide who our political BFFs are, but it will be obvious even to a casual reader that Rand Paul’s ideas find favor among our writers, in large part because of his leadership on foreign policy and civil liberties. I don’t know what my colleagues think of his part in the Obamacare defunding debacle, but I’ve watched it with dismay, not because I’m a particular fan of Obamacare, but because it seems like such a pointless, wasting cause. I’ve been thrilled by Sen. Paul’s leadership on foreign policy, so it’s especially disappointing to watch him waste so much capital on this lost cause.

Then again, as Ross Douthat wrote in a great column a couple of weeks ago:

Here’s the good news for Republicans: The party now has a faction committed to learning real lessons from the 2012 defeat, breaking with the right’s stale policy consensus and embracing new ideas on a range of issues, from foreign policy to middle-class taxes, the drug war to banking reform.

Here’s the bad news for Republicans: The party also has a faction committed to a reckless, pointless budget brinkmanship, which creates a perpetual cycle of outrage and disillusionment among conservatives and leaves Washington lurching from one manufactured crisis to the next.

Here’s the strange news for Republicans: These two factions are actually one and the same.

Douthat says Rand Paul is the politician to watch because he seems to get that in order to move the party in new and useful directions, you have to be able to talk to the base. In that sense, his having Ted Cruz’s back on the anti-Obamacare crusade could be strategically wise. Cruz is catching all the heat on the Senate side, while Paul is avoiding the spotlight, while shoring up his credentials with the base.

Maybe that’s what’s going on. I’ll try to be hopeful. Still, there’s no doubt in my mind who is responsible for the government shutting down: the GOP. I’m with John Avlon:

Divided government used to work—it created the Marshall Plan, civil rights legislation, and all the accomplishments of the Reagan era. Independent voters like me have traditionally voted for divided government in the hopes that it would restrain any one party’s impulse to ideologically over-reach by imposing common sense checks and balances.  But divided government now looks like dysfunctional government.  And despite the political security created by the rigged system of redistricting, Republicans may suddenly find the congressional midterms a referendum on their ability to get things done.  The scorecard is ugly on that front, providing yet another reason for Democrats to accept a government shutdown, however painful.

There is the sense that maybe the stark stupidity of this conflict will break the hyper-partisan fever consuming our nation’s capital.  Republicans are realizing that the angry conservative populist forces they empowered to achieve power have turned on them and are now actively restricting their ability to be taken seriously as a governing force.  When President Obama sees negotiating with Iran as a more reasonable option than negotiating with Republicans over the debt ceiling, we are through the looking glass.

… It is pathetic that is has come to this: a great power that cannot agree on practical ways to keep its government functioning.

Right. The Republicans cannot govern. These people aren’t conservatives. They are radicals. What on earth would Russell Kirk say if he were alive to see this?