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Hullabaloo


Sunday, July 28, 2013

 
When the inmates take over the asylum (GOP style)

by digby

Ryan Cooper has a bunch of interesting stuff up at Political Animal this week-end, but I thought I'd just highlight this one and let you click over to read the rest.

He's referring here to an interview with Tom Coburn in which he discusses the uselessness of trying to defund Obamacare because it is destined to fail and will then demoralize the base:
It really throws into stark relief the extent to which Republicans are driven these days not just by ideological extremism, but also by procedural extremism. Any democratic system (especially the clunky American version) depends on parties accepting basic democratic values. Ideally, when you would like a new program, or don’t like an existing one, then what you do is win some elections and then pass legislation. If you don’t have full control of government, you achieve what you can by cutting some deals while laying the groundwork for when you do take power, when you can then pass your program. This is the 2006 Nancy Pelosi strategy and it works quite well.

Republicans, by contrast, are trying to get their way via threats and hostage-taking even though they lost the last election fair and square. Despite losing the presidency and seats in both houses of Congress, they demand the president kill his signature achievement or they’ll shut down the government.

This is well-trodden ground, but the interesting point that Coburn makes is that behaving like an irresponsible fanatic will backfire even on its own terms. Sarah Kliff followed up this morning:

SK: What do you think happens next with this defunding push?

TC: I don’t know. They’re really rallying all the outside groups. They’re going to spend a bunch of money to just demoralize the base. The only way you get rid of Obamacare is winning the 2016 election. Their worry is that if you get a bunch of people on free health care, you may not be able to do that. But I think costs are going to be so high that those who are not going to get the benefits are actually going to revolt.

SK: What do you think of legislators who say that they’re willing to shut down the federal government over Obamacare funding?

TC: If you’re actually going to do that, and hold it, that’d be fine. The problem is that I know the strength of the backbone of the Senate and House, and as soon as the heat gets hot they’ll fall like wet suits.

They don’t have a microphone. Let me tell you what happens when you shut down the government: You start seeing the consequences. Who controls what is left operating? The president. As soon as the first Medicare bills go unpaid, where do you think the pressure will be? And what’s the likelihood the president will collapse on the most significant legislative accomplishment of his administration?

They have no idea, I was in it. I experienced it.
This is a useful observation. Their ideological extremism has led inexorably to this procedural extremism. They now believe they are doing God's work and must save the Republic by any means necessary.

And because of that, I don't think Coburn is right in worrying that losing an Obamacare repeal would demoralize the Republican base. It would do the opposite --- it would energize it. They thrive on being the underdog and love to run against both Democrats and their own establishment. It's what they do.

Here's conservative movement guru Richard Viguerie after the loss of the congress in 2006:
Sometimes a loss for the Republican Party is a gain for conservatives. Often, a little taste of liberal Democrats in power is enough to remind the voters what they don’t like about liberal Democrats and to focus the minds of Republicans on the principles that really matter. That’s why the conservative movement has grown fastest during those periods when things seemed darkest, such as during the Carter administration and the first two years of the Clinton White House.

Conservatives are, by nature, insurgents, and it’s hard to maintain an insurgency when your friends, or people you thought were your friends, are in power.
Cooper concludes:
This might seem like a minor point here, but I think it’s fairly compelling evidence that the biggest problem with American politics is not the structure of our government (which, I’ll agree, sucks) but the Republican party itself. As goofy and jerry-rigged as the American system is, it could probably accommodate an ideologically extreme party if they just bought in to the basic underlying premises of democratic governance.
Well, sort of. The Republican establishment is afraid of its own voters which is perhaps the most important underlying premise of democratic governance there is. They truly are responding to the will of the people. Unfortunately, their voters have been radicalized by about 40 years of increasingly nihilistic propaganda that's resulted in the insurgency turning on the system itself. Since men like Coburn are responsible for this, it would be tempting to just sit back and munch on the popcorn as the party implodes, but unfortunately the GOP wields a tremendous amount of power in our two party system, even if it has gone nuts. Their problem is our problem whether we like it or not.


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