A Nihilist Ideological Cult That Cannot be Reckoned With, by @DavidOAtkins

A Nihilist Ideological Cult That Cannot be Reckoned With

by David Atkins

The House GOP has spent most of the day proving my thesis that the modern Republican Party is less a group of hard-nosed brilliant negotiators on behalf of the wealthy than a group of radical ideologues hell-bent on getting their way even if it means economic catastrophe. The House Republican reaction to a deal that passed the Senate by 80 votes has been to up the ante and refuse the deal:

GOP source, privy to leadership strategy: House will add "spending cuts they know Democrats can't live with...Our base is gonna be fired up"

— Mike Allen (@mikeallen) January 1, 2013

Told that one member inside conf mtg asked for Boehner to try and bring up his original offer to Obama.

— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) January 1, 2013

Marco rubio and rand paul were right to vote no on this terrible last minute tax and spend bill.

— Newt Gingrich (@newtgingrich) January 1, 2013

Remember that this is the same deal that so many intelligent progressives (rightly!) claimed was a terrible one for Democrats because it positioned us for a much worse deal over the debt ceiling.

Instead, the House GOP is determined to scuttle the bill by making revisions it knows the Senate cannot and will not accept, even if the Senate deigned to come back to Washington on a dime after leaving town (which it likely would not in any case.)

Part of this is doubtless gamesmanship by Cantor against Boehner. The same Eric Cantor who was smiling so broadly when there was no deal two weeks ago has been the chief lobbyist against accepting the Senate deal today, possibly as a gambit to force Boehner to try to pass it with minimal Republican support, breaking the Hastert Rule and ending his Speakership. But it turns out that Boehner might not even have the necessary few Republican votes in the House even if he did violate the Hastert rule and brought it to the floor with near unanimous Democratic support. Per Dave Weigel:

Rep. Huelskamp says current House GOP support for deal is bt 20-50 votes.

— daveweigel (@daveweigel) January 1, 2013

In which case it would be less a matter of internal GOP politics and more of a matter of united ideological aversion to anything resembling a deal supported by the President.

Keep in mind in all of this that corporate America desperately wants and has been counting on a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. If the GOP House does scuttle the deal as they seem inclined to do, it would take a fool to believe that these are mere puppets playing a hardline negotiating game on behalf of wealthy benefactors. Wealthy benefactors want a deal. As Markos Moulitsas points out, the House move is not that of brilliant negotiators but of utter fools so ideologically driven they can't see straight even to help corporate plutocrats.

No, the GOP House cares only about "firing up the base." That means pleasing the Fox News, talk radio and GOP blog audience currently incensed over the same deal that is also infuriating many progressives. It means pleasing not only the same hardcore conservative constituents that voted for plutocrat Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in all but 15 GOP-held House districts, but also and more importantly the even more extremist conservatives who will vote in the 2014 Republican House primaries.

If the country falls into a recession caused by House intransigence and universal tax increases, these Republican voters won't blame conservatives or the GOP. They'll happily blame the President for the biggest tax increases in American history and the sour economy to boot. And they'll love their representatives for standing firm against Kenyan socialism.

It's now up to the Left to respond and adjust its tactics accordingly. It would be great if the President had taken a stronger negotiating stance. But it ultimately wouldn't have mattered, and in fact would have made it easier for the Village press to blame both sides. Not that the Village won't do that, anyway, of course.

The first lesson here is that nobody is "negotiating" or "playing poker." A fair game of poker demands that each side actually have something at stake and be playing with their own chips. The Republican House isn't doing that: they're pleasing their own base to protect their own electoral reserves, while going all in on every hand using the American economy as collateral. The only way to win that game is not to play. Every "negotiation" isn't a game of policy trading: it's an opportunity for extortion while they cater to an ever-more extremist electorate in their home districts. California voters have already seen this dynamic in action as a slim minority of Republicans took the entire state economy hostage for decades rather than negotiate fairly.

The advantage Democrats have in this situation is that majority public opinion and the majority of actual American voters are on their side. The only thing that allows Republicans to take their hostages in the first place is a series of arcane rules that give the minority undue influence. Among those rules are:

And that's just a start. If we want a future in which we do more than simply determine which hostages to save and which ones to shoot, the American People will need to figure out how to make these and other reforms to our broken political system that disempowers rational majorities in favor of extremist ideological minorities with nothing to lose. As the Republicans continue to suffer demographic decline, their base will only become more desperate and extreme.