Once more to the brink

It looks like a significant element of the Republican party has convinced itself that brinkmanship that threatens to bring the government to a halt by withholding funding for its operations unless Obama care is repealed is a winning strategy. They are threatening to shut down the government in the fall unless all funding for Obamacare is removed. This policy is so insane that it has alarmed even people like Mitt Romney.

Even Paul Krugman has reached the conclusion that I and many others have, that the Republican party has ceased to be political party in any modern sense of the word and has now become just a vehicle to angrily vent about whatever issues that its constituency happens to care about at that moment..

Krugman says that the obsession with repealing Obamacare is a key symptom of this derangement.

In the short run the point is that Republican leaders are about to reap the whirlwind, because they haven’t had the courage to tell the base that Obamacare is here to stay, that the sequester is in fact intolerable, and that in general they have at least for now lost the war over the shape of American society. As a result, we’re looking at many drama-filled months, with a high probability of government shutdowns and even debt defaults.

Over the longer run the point is that one of America’s two major political parties has basically gone off the deep end; policy content aside, a sane party doesn’t hold dozens of votes declaring its intention to repeal a law that everyone knows will stay on the books regardless. And since that party continues to hold substantial blocking power, we are looking at a country that’s increasingly ungovernable. [My italics-MS]

The trouble is that it’s hard to give this issue anything like the amount of coverage it deserves on substantive grounds without repeating oneself. So I do try to mix it up. But neither you nor I should forget that the madness of the GOP is the central issue of our time.

Krugman’s views are significant because he is an establishment figure. While the crazies and Fox News may dismiss him as shrill, there is no question that many influential people across the political spectrum take him seriously, and I have no doubt that there is serious concern about the future of the Republican party among many of its stalwarts.

I have to admit that I am surprised that the Republican party has chosen Obamacare as the issue over which they are willing to go to the mat. A health care reform law that is far from radical and so friendly to the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries seems hardly the kind of thing that one would expect to arouse this kind of high moral outrage. You would not expect it to produce the kind of visceral and emotional reaction that leads to mass action, such as (say) abortion or homosexuality or same-sex marriage or church-state issues.

So why obsess over Obamacare? The only reason I can think of is that the Republican leadership saw the Affordable Care Act as president Obama’s signature issue in his first term and decided that defeating it would be their path to preventing him being re-elected and installing a Republican majority in both the House and Senate, giving them total control of the government. That policy turned out to be a dismal failure, with the Democrats not only regaining the White House but increasing their numbers in Congress in 2012.

But what the strategy achieved was inflaming the Republican party base and making them think that defeating Obamacare was somehow a deep moral issue and not merely a tactic for trying to win the 2012 elections. The party sowed the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind.

The problem is that redistricting has resulted in many incumbents being in such safe seats, their main concern is now to win their party primaries which attract the more extreme segments of their constituencies. Hence there is little downside to advocating crazy polices as long as they satisfy the extreme base. Unless there is a change in views that is large enough that Republican incumbents can be challenged successfully in primaries by people who don’t think that Obamacare is the greatest moral issue of our time and that repeatedly threatening to shut down the government is not a good idea, we are going to continue to lurch from one manufactured crisis to another.

I continue to marvel at how the politics of the world’s largest economy has become so acutely dysfunctional and melodramatic.


  1. Randomfactor says

    The GOP is a money-making scam. Every time they “vote to abolish Obamacare” the faithful cheer and send money. And those who do are on dozens of alt-med and get-rich-quick sucker lists as well. Any votes they take ultimately benefit the 1%.

    The Democrats do it, too, but typically don’t take votes on it. Every time Harry Reid suggests that now is the time he’s honestly, for-reals-this-time going to do something about the abuse of the filibuster, I get more fundraising e-mails. Occasionally they push something through that’s a half-assed approach at solving a problem.

    The Republicans are selling sizzle to suckers. The Democrats are selling the promise of sizzle to suckers. (Full disclosure: I’m one of the Democrats’ suckers.)

  2. DaveL says

    Let’s get this straight: This is Congress threatening to prevent the borrowing of money to fund spending authorized by Congress, in order to force Congress to repeal a law passed by Congress?

  3. machintelligence says

    I was afraid that this was going to happen during Obama’s first term, crashing the economy in order to replace the president with a Republican. Apparently they didn’t have the guts to attempt it, since it might well have backfired.

    This latest strategy seems to indicate that they have forgotten what happened when their party, under Newt Gingrich, did succeed in shutting down the federal government, or maybe they know that they have truly lost any hope of winning national elections and just want to torpedo the ability of the Democrats to govern.

    I think this is a particularly stupid idea, as all but the most rabid Fox News watchers will see through it. If they do enough damage they will probably (and hopefully) be defeated in sufficient numbers to lose control of the House.

    To give Harry Reid his due, he might be worried that the Republicans could gain control of the Senate (unlikely as that seems now) and cause all manner of havoc without the filibuster to put a brake on things.

  4. Trebuchet says

    The Republicans are in a bind. They’ve been lying about Obamacare so loudly and so long that even the (relatively) sane ones don’t dare say anything other than that it’s the end of the world as we know it.

  5. Mano Singham says

    Yes, that is a succinct statement of the state of affairs. wonderful, isn’t it?

  6. M can help you with that. says

    They seem to be taking the old “opposite of progress” joke seriously.

  7. says

    I have to admit that I am surprised that the Republican party has chosen Obamacare as the issue over which they are willing to go to the mat.

    I’m not. Having grown up on a military base in the 80’s-90’s and having family full of the people who are voting for R’s it’s obvious what happened to me. It’s all about the symbolic shift to create the right Boogy Man to appeal to a base that is constantly fed a diet of symbolic fear. There is no more Cold War and an amorphous “Socialism” (that they can never actually define) was the best next choice. Geographically Europe is close to the former Soviet Union (don’t have to think harder about “those scary people over here”). Less government control being a conservative theme (not honestly held) this was an easy transfer here too because more government involvement in healthcare was already connected to “universalized medicine”, another “socialist idea”. The minority racist element was already fearful and reactionary and getting them to scream at Obamacare was easy.

    It’s all simple messages for most of these folks and they are dependent on going back home and shouting things that can fit on a bumper sticker. The easiest way to see that is to simply ask “why?”. Most of the time I get silence from family, and varying sorts of psychological means of avoiding the subject from everyone else. They support it because their social circle is why they believe it. Though the fact that I don’t vote for D’s either short-circuits most of that.

    Yes I know that this is a generalization, but that does not mean that the patterns are not there. Individual exceptions are another distraction.

  8. Corvus illustris says

    … unlikely as [the Republicans’ gaining control of the Senate] seems now …

    I wish I had your confidence, given the number of shoo-in Democratic incumbents who will retire as of the next election.

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