Remember when Republicans and Democrats were able to acknowledge their ideological differences but still, by and large, work together to govern the country?
If you're not at least as old as I am (high 40's), you probably don't know what I'm talking about firsthand. The spirit of cooperation for the common good started atrophying decades ago and is now, for all intents and purposes, dead. It took a major turn for the worse when the Congressional GOP made taking down Bill Clinton their primary goal, well above actually governing, and was smothered for good during the Bush administration, when the GOP majority laughed in Dems' faces while refusing to treat them as peers in the legislative process.
Once Obama took office, we didn't really know what to expect, but I don't think many people predicted what has actually come to pass - which is that the Republican Party has become a kind of terrorist organization.
Anyone who understands anything about American politics should be able to see what I'm talking about. Our two-party system is inherently antagonistic and competitive. The side commanding the most power usually wins, but usually it has to make some concessions to get there. The side with less power will usually lose, but often extracts a concession or two in exchange for support on something else. This is how governing is achieved in a two-party oppositional system.
But something has warped the current Republican psyche. To today's Republicans, "cooperation" is a dirty word. "Negotiating" means repeating the full list of your demands and refusing to concede a single one. Gone is any acknowledgment that Democrats in office represent a segment of the American population. To Republicans, "the people" are always in support of the Republican Party line, no matter how regressive their policies, how much damage they will do to "the people," or how many polls prove that "the people" actually don't support them.
When Republicans had majorities in Congress during the Bush years, they flaunted their power by ramrodding through every policy they wanted, over Democratic objections. When the time came for them to be in the minority, they linked arms and fought to obstruct everything Democrats tried to pass. It didn't matter that many of these bills enjoyed popular support among Americans. The point was to prevent the country from making any progress or recovery under Democratic control. They succeeded well enough that, two years later, voters took out their frustrations with high unemployment and a still sluggish economy on Democrats. Republicans took over state legislatures, governorships, and the U. S. House.
What the Republicans in Congress did was not governing. They ignored the duties of their offices and failed to do the jobs they were sent to Washington to do. They actually voted against pretty much every piece of legislation that was intended to create jobs or help the economy, but voters couldn't seem to get their heads around the fact that the lack of new jobs and economic growth was largely due to Republican opposition to legislation that would do that. By sticking to their plan and simply refusing to help govern, Republicans were able to convince voters that Democrats needed to be punished. And so, we had a GOP takeover throughout much of the country.
But it didn't occur to me how closely the Republicans' behavior resembled terrorism until I saw this Christian Science Monitor blog today. Entitled "Republicans demand ransom from the White House," the author (Robert Reich), compares House Republicans to kidnappers.
It’s called ransom. That’s what Republicans are demanding from the White House and congressional Democrats for not pulling the plug on the government.As Reich points out, this game will ultimately hurt the most vulnerable members of American society as the White House must continually agree to slash more and more of the non-defense discretionary spending that generally goes to states or funds federal education programs and programs that benefit the poor. Republicans certainly know what this money does, but they still have no problem demanding cuts in the nominal service of "reducing the deficit." They know they can make this demand because they have a hostage: the operations of the federal government.
Problem is, when you pay ransom once, you’re almost begging to pay it again. And that’s exactly the pickle the Obama administration is finding itself in.
In order to avoid a shutdown last week and buy time until March 18, the White House agreed to more spending cuts for the remainder of this fiscal year than it originally put on the table. Now, in order to get past March 18, Republicans want even more. Democrats have offered to cut an additional $10.5 billion but Republicans want $61 billion. The White House is hinting it’s ready to compromise further.
Now, in a bygone era, there might have been a little more give and take in this situation. The Republicans would be mindful of their public image and, after securing the initial concessions and voting for the temporary budget extension, they might come back to the table willing to talk compromise on the overall budget. But that was when we had a media that actually tried to keep government and politicians honest. These days, most media is about ratings and ad revenue or about partisanship, so if you're a Republican, you probably see their continued refusal to work with Dems on the budget as principled, not as what it really is - extortion. So they have let these past couple of weeks go by without sincere negotiation, just waiting to say, "You want another two weeks of federal operations? Well, it's gonna cost ya..."
Reich goes on to state that "The White House should never have started paying ransom. Once ransom starts, there’s no end to it." Which is all well and good, except what was the alternative? Letting the GOP shut down the government, no matter who it hurts? Reich's "no deals with terrorists" approach requires one to be willing to let the hostage die. Our president, not being a heartless sociopath, wasn't willing to do that. Strategically, maybe that was a mistake, but me? I'm glad we don't have a sociopath in the White House... anymore.
The bottom line is, there is no "good" course of action for Dems and the White House when they are facing opponents who a) don't care about the poor, the middle class, or pretty much anyone but corporations and the rich, and b) won't be held accountable by a non-ideological media that will highlight their blatant disregard for doing right by their constituents. The GOP needn't worry about their image because they know Fox News launders it 24/7 and the rest of the media is more concerned about profits than truth. Republicans are therefore perfectly willing to let the government sit idle and do harm to Americans who depend on its programs and services. It's fine to decree from the safe ground of theory "don't make deals with terrorists," but the reality of that approach is that hostages will probably perish.
On the one hand, we have a conservative party that is willing to do literally anything to get their own way, and a party on the left that isn't. That's a bad situation, but I'm going to place the blame exactly where it belongs, unlike many voices in the lefty blogosphere who rail incessantly about "spineless Dems" and "Obama caving to the rethugs." I can't blame the Democrats or the White House for doing what they have to do to keep the country afloat. Blaming Democrats for their response to GOP extortion by necessity siphons attention away from Republicans' responsibility for the extortion itself. I'm not playing that game.
The Republicans have become terrorists, and I'm not afraid to point that out.