Fallows on the Absurd Budget Battles

James Fallows writes about the absolutely insane and dysfunctional pattern our politics has taken over the last few years in light of the current battles over the budget, Obamacare and raising the debt ceiling. He begins by pointing out how unique this is:

As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it.

All you need to do is read Larry Lessig’s book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It to see how corrupt the system has become. And volumes could be written about how the combination of the Tea Party movement and the post-Citizens United campaign finance system has given enormous power to small groups of angry rich people to have even more influence than they already had.

Fallows also points out that the unusual thing about this situation is that the battle is all within a single party:

This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.

And then he criticizes the media for pretending it’s a fight between the parties:

As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on…

This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

That is a very important point. What we are seeing is a fight for control of the Republican party and the havoc being unleashed within that party by the Tea Party movement. It’s going exactly as I predicted when the Tea Party was created and the Republican Party quickly tried to harness its energy. The short-term gain they got — winning control of the House by electing about 90 Tea Party candidates — is now coming back to bite them by making their House caucus completely divided and uncontrollable.

Comments

  1. zero6ix says

    A one act play.

    TP: I want to play football!

    R: Football is good, but lets play touch football.

    D: How about soccer?

    TP: WE WILL PLAY FOOTBALL. TACKLE STYLE.

    TP deflates all balls, smashes all equipment, and sets fire to the field. R and D run from fire. TP calls them cowards, then catches alight.

    End

  2. alanb says

    I was disappointed but unsurprised at the headlines yesterday like “Republicans and Democrats engaged in a game of chicken” and “Who will blink first?” Jon Stewart had the only sane reaction: “No, this is not a game of chicken. This is when someone is driving to work and there is a car coming directly at them in their lane. That’s not a game of chicken. That’s an asshole causing a head-on collision.”

  3. besomyka says

    I think we witnessed the death of the GOP as we knew it last night and, possibly, the creation of a new insane political party.

    The GOP cannot survive this conflict and remain whole.

  4. besomyka says

    And it’s their own fault. They let the loonies back into the party and then encouraged them. They won and gerrymandered their districts allowing the destructive politics to take root. No one to blame but themselves.

  5. raven says

    FWIW, there is no huge hatred for ACA AKA Obamacare among the American people. In fact, GOP voters are likely to be heavy users of it.

    1. More Republicans than Democrats have put their adult children on their policies, which can be done up till they are age 26. While this a surprising claim, it has been fact checked and is true.

    2. Interest in Obamacare has been above projections. Enrollment starts today so it is too early to call, but everything says enrollment will be high.

    It remains to be seen if this program will be a success. That will take a few years.

    But so far, it is looking better than expected.

    If Obamacare is a success, the GOP is going to have some explaining to do. Whether it will translate into lost votes remains to be seen.

  6. raven says

    I think we witnessed the death of the GOP as we knew it last night and, possibly, the creation of a new insane political party.

    The GOP cannot survive this conflict and remain whole.

    You might be mistaking wishful thinking and common sense for reality here.

    Let’s face it, the loonies already own the GOP. But it hasn’t translated into lost power or voters. They aren’t hiding anything and keep getting elected to the point that they control the US House.

    Oddly enough, a democracy can vote to shoot its feet off and no one can stop them.

  7. ragarth says

    If the US defaults on its loans, what effect will this have on US economic dominance over the next half century? China controls a great many bonds, I could see them both being pissed at us defaulting on them and also giddy at us handing them the world economy.

  8. says

    @ Raven,
    Even if the ACA is the most successful program in the history of ever, and teabaggers benefit immensely and use it to keep their grown children on, costs come down like it is hoped, Americans’ health is improved, etc., 47 percent of Americans will vote for the party that vows that, if elected, they will end all that.

  9. elpayaso says

    seems like these folks forgot their mantra “The Constitution is not a suicide pact”……..

  10. Chiroptera says

    Well, we aren’t quite like the Weimar Republic. We don’t yet have the various political factions sending out armed thugs to beat up opposing politicians and to engage in street battles with each other!

  11. eric says

    constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it.

    Oh come now. First on a serious note, the amount of time we’ve spent in shut-down over the past 40-50 year is relatively trivial. To call it “permanent” is rank hyperbole.

    More playfully, how dare you imply Italy is not a serious country!

  12. exdrone says

    besomyka @3:

    I think we witnessed the death of the GOP as we knew it last night and, possibly, the creation of a new insane political party.

    The Tea Party Brotherhood, perhaps.

  13. caseloweraz says

    I admire James Fallows, but I disagree with one thing he wrote here.

    Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.

    If he hadn’t used the quotation marks, I’d agree completely. But there are “compromises” like the ones Ed has written about the GOP demanding — “compromises” which amount to capitulation.

    Were any such agreed to, the GOP would be placated for only a short time. Then they would be back with more demands for “compromise.”

  14. marcus says

    “… or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism,”
    This!
    I am getting really fucking annoyed that some of the current “journalists” portray the the administration and Democrats as being engaged in a ‘blame game’ with the tea-bagging rethugs.
    The Republicans in the House are responsible for this! Anything that does not acknowledge this as a fact is a fucking lie!
    End of story.

  15. eric says

    The Republicans in the House are responsible for this!

    I actually put a lot of the blame for the current mess on Boehner’s shoulders (rather than the entire party’s). He could allow a ‘clean’ bill to go the floor for a vote. If he did that, very likely enough moderate GOPs would vote for it that it would pass. He personally chooses not to allow such a vote to happen. Its on him.

    But you’re right about this being (also) a failure of journalism. Most articles and talking heads misrepresent the situtation as the two parties at an impasse. They aren’t at an impasse: the two parties would (likely) agree on a clean bill, if the leader of the House majority would allow such a bill to be voted on. The impasse isn’t GOP-writ-large vs. Dems-writ-large, it’s House leadership and Tea party vs. everyone else.

  16. Michael Heath says

    eric writes:

    I actually put a lot of the blame for the current mess on Boehner’s shoulders (rather than the entire party’s). He could allow a ‘clean’ bill to go the floor for a vote. If he did that, very likely enough moderate GOPs would vote for it that it would pass.

    There are virtually no moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives. Enough Republicans may vote to pass a clean resolution, my Tea Bagging Representative Dan Benishek opposes the current extortions and promises to vote for a clean resolution, but that doesn’t make him a moderate. Not by a long shot.

    A good litmus test on whether a Republican is a moderate or not is if they:
    a) concede the facts regarding the climate and promote policies consistent with those facts.
    b) concede the existence of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment and support social policy consistent with the meaning of the equal protection clause.
    c) concede the lessons of history and the advice of experts on monetary and economic policy.

    Because the Republican party is now dominated by conservatives, moderates are not welcomed. Nearly all Republicans in Congress display a closed psychological profile where they fiercely practice epistemic closure. From this perspective they can’t concede the facts I note above, they are instead standard-issue deniers of reality.

  17. pocketnerd says

    Thus spake ZaraMichaelHeath:

    A good litmus test on whether a Republican is a moderate or not is if they:
    a) concede the facts regarding the climate and promote policies consistent with those facts.
    b) concede the existence of the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment and support social policy consistent with the meaning of the equal protection clause.
    c) concede the lessons of history and the advice of experts on monetary and economic policy.

    All snark aside, how many Republicans would pass that test? Item (c) alone — conceding the the failure of supply-side, Austrian-school, monetarist economic policies — would probably disqualify 90% or more.

  18. Michael Heath says

    pocketnerd writes:

    All snark aside, how many Republicans would pass that test? Item (c) alone — conceding the the failure of supply-side, Austrian-school, monetarist economic policies — would probably disqualify 90% or more.

    Exactly pocketnerd, at least at the federal and in my state – the state level. That’s precisely why I make the point the GOP effectively no longer has any moderates at the national level but is instead now dominated by conservatives.

    I’m also now observing wingnuts taking over at the local level. A nearby county recently pulled out of an economic development consortium for wingnut reasons, their rationale was incoherent and opposed by all the local Chambers of Commerce.

    We are now seeing our state representatives promote legislation to stop the black helicopters from swooping in to implement “Agenda 21″. We lost our county’s homeless shelter because the wingnuts were able to stop the county’s voters from having a chance to vote on whether to partly fund it or not. Where that shelter shut down a couple of weeks ago due to big federal and state cuts.

    My state representative doesn’t want the state of Michigan to adopt federal education standards because they’ll teach students the facts regarding climate change. He’s an ex-TV weatherman whose denialism on the topic is painfully ignorant and idiotic, e.g., “climate change happened in the past, therefore climate scientists are wrong about climate change now.” He thinks we shouldn’t allow experts to teach the facts, but instead that legislators should decide what to teach public school teachers. I find it difficult to imagine such idiocy but here we are, observing how Sarah Palin was an illustrative precursor of things to come at the local level.

  19. eric says

    Michael Heath:

    There are virtually no moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives. Enough Republicans may vote to pass a clean resolution, my Tea Bagging Representative Dan Benishek opposes the current extortions and promises to vote for a clean resolution, but that doesn’t make him a moderate.

    Okay…my point still stands. This isn’t GOP vs. Democrats, its Boehner and one relatively small wing of the GOP vs. all Dems and some GOP support for a ‘clean’ budget bill.

  20. Michael Heath says

    eric writes:

    Okay…my point still stands. This isn’t GOP vs. Democrats, its Boehner and one relatively small wing of the GOP vs. all Dems and some GOP support for a ‘clean’ budget bill.

    Your point fails on two counts, where your latest response has you taking even an more absurd position than your prior post.

    If we’re to consider both of your posts, you’re now effectively making the implication besides a, “small wing of the GOP”, the GOP are moderates; that’s where your position deteriorates even further. They are not moderates, again, I observe virtually no moderates amongst House Republicans. In addition you claim this an intra-party battle rather than between parties, in spite of the fact the GOP has overwhelmingly passed resolutions that did in fact, shut down the government where Speak Boehner has refused a clean resolution to the floor.

    There are certainly squabbles amongst Republicans, but the reality is, contra your two posts, that the resolutions voted on in the House that attempt to extort legislative victories do in fact represent House members. House Republicans overwhelmingly voted on resolutions we had high confidence would shut down the government, at least twice. Sheesh.

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