A disturbing trend in American politics

Once again we are witnessing a debate in the US Senate as to whether the filibuster should be dispensed with. To be quite honest, I cannot get too excited about this kind of rule change, though I can see why abandoning it could have significant consequences. But it is a symptom of a far more serious problem. I think that the US political system has deep problems that extend far beyond arcane senate rules.

What we are witnessing these days is that the Republican party has basically abandoned any attempt at following any kind of reasonably coherent political philosophy and instead seeks to basically undermine the very functioning of government (except for the military) by blocking everything it does not like, irrespective of any damage it does. Since the only things it likes involve siphoning yet more money to rich people and appeasing the crazy views of its social conservative base, we have arrived at what is a state of paralysis. We have no budgets or meaningful legislation anymore. Instead we have ad hoc measures like the sequestration.

As Greg Sargent says, “today’s GOP has effectively abdicated the role of functional opposition party, instead opting for a kind of post-policy nihilism in which sabotaging the Obama agenda has become its only guiding governing light.”

Jonathan Chait adds:

One of the novel developments in conservative thought during the Obama years is a burgeoning hatred not merely for government but for lawmaking. Before the Obama era, the ends of crafting laws divided the parties, but the means did not. The process of corralling votes, placating hold-outs, and hammering out compromises was not something either side especially loved — you’ve heard the classic line about watching the sausage get made — but also not something that one side disliked more than the other. But a hatred for lawmaking has emerged in the Obama years, first as a Republican tactic, and then as an apparently genuine belief system.

From 2009 to 2012 the Republican strategy was explicitly stated as having the goal of making Obama a one-term president by acting in total opposition to everything he wanted to achieve. If he wanted something, that was enough to oppose it. So the only things that happened were those measures designed to please their joint oligarchic overlords, like bailouts of Wall Street.

But Obama was re-elected despite this implacable opposition. And polls indicate that this strategy is still not working for them, with the majority of the public (51%) blaming the Republicans for Washington’s gridlock over Obama (35%).

So now what? It looks like the Republican party is seeing these results not as a sign that their strategy was wrong but that they were not extreme enough in its implementation. So we are hearing calls that the party needs to block anything that might be construed as a ‘success’ for the president and the Democratic party, which means preventing any legislation at all, blocking confirmation of as many nominees as possible, and trying to run up the score with white, religious, socially conservative voters, to overcome the deficits in other demographics.

So we can likely expect an even uglier next three years, with gridlock in Washington and highly divisive rhetoric that will seek to open up even further divisions based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, generations, and religion.


  1. CaitieCat says

    It’s not just policies they don’t like; so-called ‘Obamacare’ is a direct copy of the Massachusetts version implemented under Romney, and both are straight off the pages of a Heritage Institute paper, hardly what one might call a bastion of American progressivism.

    The GOP are reflexively oppositional to anything Obama likes or wants. Even if it’s a thing they would ordinarily support. Hell, if they knew how to take yes for an answer, they could have been implementing the third and fourth terms of GWB by now, because Obama’s actual governance (as opposed to his campaign rhetoric) hasn’t been grossly different from that of his predecessor. Guantanamo is still full of uncharged detainees, drones are still bombing wedding parties, extraterritorial justice is still being sought, fossil fuels still are king of the country, the budget’s been cut far further under BO than it was under GWB. And the worst part is, he’s had to fight to get even those things happening, because the GOP are so filled with oppositional rage that they can’t recognize their own pet legislation when it’s got his stamp of approval.

    Your country is so fucked.

    (mine’s pretty bad too, but it’s a logarithmic scale)

  2. Claire says

    Speaking as an ex-pat Brit living in the US, the way I see it is you now have parliamentary-style politics, trying to operate under a congressional system. In the UK (and other countries with similar political systems) it is the job of the Loyal Opposition to do exactly that – oppose the government and hold them to account through things such as Prime Ministers Questions (and other “Questions” to ministers).

    The system set up by the Founding Fathers by contrast does not seem well suited to a 2 party system. My understanding is that they envisioned multiple small parties or even independent individuals, forming loose coalitions over each piece of legislation, each which would have a different complexion based on the legislation at hand. But this is not what you have now.

    I’m not extolling the virtues of a parliamentary system over a congressional one, merely pointing out the discrepancy between the design and the implementation in current US politics. Perhaps getting rid of the filibuster altogether would be better than a government that can barely keep the lights on, lurching from manufactured crisis to crisis. But more likely, a larger scale revision is needed. I can’t see how it could be accomplished however.

  3. says

    sabotaging the Obama agenda has become its only guiding governing light.

    Well, other than increasing military spending and funnelling taxpayer’s dollars to the rich (while claiming to be in favor of “small government”) they don’t have any ideas. Fuck, those don’t even qualify as ‘ideas’ … So what else can they do?

    When you can’t win, all you can do is make sure the other guy loses as badly as you do.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    As when Clinton was impeached, it’s not like Obama was trying to do much we could call constructive anyway.

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