Were we doomed to perpetual gridlock?

ObamaBoehnerAt various points over the last two years, I have read a lot of news that left me to wonder if maybe, just maybe, something big was going to happen in Washington. After all, our struggling economy needs it. But then I come face-to-face with the $250,000 question: how can it hold up to three weeks of ranting and raving by right-wing radio show hosts and bloggers? And then I realize once again the futility of attempting to reenact the bipartisan agreements of the 20th century.

Can you believe that the piece of legislation that created the sequester, the Budget Control Act Of 2011, actually got mixed reactions from the right? It looks as though it will be lost to history, but it’s true. Redstate.com founder Erick Erickson declared that it made tax increases inevitable and was the result of Republicans “running scared.” Rush Limbaugh called it a “total waste of time.” Why, yes, I’m talking about the same sequester that has come to be seen as a major victory for House Republicans. Even an austerity-oriented deal is not necessarily good enough for them.

This is why you shouldn’t assume that there’s equal responsibility for why, other than Obama’s recent action to fight global warming (which didn’t require Congress), there’s looking to be very little action for some time. The Democrats typically offer spending cuts as well as revenue, so it’s not like they won’t compromise. The problem is that Republican officials must now pass a strict conservative litmus test. Failing to do so will mean a primary challenge.


The true bosses of the Republican Party.

There’s also the tenuous position of House Speaker John Boehner. There are a lot of true believers in the House who wouldn’t take compromise lying down even if their base didn’t demand ideological purity. So we repeatedly hear about Boehner being threatened with a coup. At the very least, it’s a problem if a bill passes with 195 Democrats and only 70 Republicans, for those ideologues have said that this is their first sign of betrayal.

So despite reports that immigration votes may occur, I’ll be surprised if there’s anything for President Obama to sign. Simply put, obstacles on the right side of the aisle are too great. There will be debt ceiling brinksmanship, and that’s all.

Was there ever any solution to this? I doubt there was anything any of the major players in Washington could’ve done to avert do-nothingness. First of all, the ability of a President or House Speaker to completely change the math in Congress by busting heads is not without limits. And with lots of Republicans having more to fear from primary voters than independents, the tools to get them with the program just weren’t there.

I’d add that the House was never going to go Democratic. The Republicans had a lot of major advantages including mostly right-leaning district maps, Democrats being more concentrated in cities than ever, Obama’s limited margin of victory not being likely to lift other Dems, the historic rarity of sitting presidents having long coattails anyhow, and most overlooked of all, Citizens United, which opened a floodgate of uncontrolled corporate cash. And nowhere does that matter more than local races, which people know by far the least about. Perhaps the huge Hillary victory that most seem to be (prematurely) expecting in 2016 can bowl over the Republicans. Short of that, the House is Republican until at least 2022.

And I don’t think that Mitt Romney could have united our government. Since the election was close at best all the way through and only two Democratic Senate candidates lost by less than five points, Romney would have put two more Republicans in the Senate, tops. And again, downballot races don’t necessarily work like that anyhow. So Romney would have needed at least three crossovers. Not particularly likely and impossible as the Tea Party would have expected him to repeal Health Care Reform, Financial Reform, and end Medicare as we know it. So the situation would’ve been the same as now except that it would be Republicans who were getting some pet projects by executive order and that hostage demands, ironically, wouldn’t work because Romney, not Harry Reid, would bear responsibility for the economy.

Actually, the nomination of Mitt Romney may tie with Health Care Reform being found constitutional for “most important event of 2012” honors. It meant that should Romney lose, the American right would not see it as a repudiation. During the primaries, I was reading a lot of Redstate.com. It’s very critical of establishment Republicans while still shying away from most anti-Obama conspiracy theories, so I thought it a good place to study why exactly movement conservatives were so resistant to a man who had tried so hard to position himself as one of them. It was fairly enlightening. It seems that the right believes that the reason the Republican Party is now 1-for-6 in the popular vote is not because 1980s conservatism isn’t a winner but because their leaders have turned away from it ever since Ronald Reagan left office. This is a very flawed way to look at it. After all, who believes that Pat Buchanan would’ve beaten Bill Clinton or that Obama would’ve lost last year to guys who couldn’t even keep their numbers in the Republican race up for longer than two minutes? Because those were the conservative choices in 1992, 1996, and 2012. Besides, can you even argue that Romney, who embraced, among other things, at least the principle of Medicare privatization under pressure from the right, was really a fair representative of moderate Republicanism?

But Republican pragmatists were in too weak a position for that argument to work. The problem is that simple and effective arguments are often more persuasive than complicated ones. Far-right radio show host Mark Levin was speaking for many in the Republican base when he recently said:

“So you see, we have a branding problem. We, you and me. You see, McCain was apparently ‘our’ guy! Romney was apparently ‘our’ guy! Dole was apparently ‘our’ guy! The Bushes were apparently ‘our’ guys! You see, we have a branding problem. The Republican establishment has the gall to blame you and me for what they’ve done! And the funny thing is, in a sick way, that despite their pandering, they can’t win elections!”

There’s the rub. In the right-wing mind, conservatism has not been an option at the ballot box since 1984. Which means that not since the 1964 LBJ landslide have the American people truly voted against conservatism, or so the conservative movement believes. Until their personal choice heads a Presidential ticket and loses, gridlock will last as long as government isn’t united.

If you ask me, the man who could have saved us was Newt Gingrich. Why? Because Newt did not just run a conservative campaign. He was, to quote Romney, a bomb-thrower. He supported child labor, abolishing the capital gains tax and EPA, called the Palestinians an “invented people,” and regularly used Detroit, food stamps, and anti-work analogies to describe Obama.

A member of Newt's Base?

A member of Newt’s Base?

His role would have been that of a sacrificial lamb. Because he would probably have lost by about ten points, maybe more. And with the Tea Party having captained and sunk the ship, it would be the no-compromise-or-else faction of the party that was in a position of weakness.

After all, that’s exactly what happened in 1964. Barry Goldwater’s candidacy was based on the idea that the Republicans hadn’t been the same since the Great Depression, not because of the New Deal, but because Republican officials were too much like the other side of the aisle, causing their jaded supporters to sit at home. When Goldwater got hit out of the park, it was a crushing defeat for the Goldwater crowd; it didn’t nominate another candidate until 1980, and the two Republican Presidents before that, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, would prove quite moderate.

But it was not to be. Until a new Goldwater teaches the Republicans the importance of compromise or a party gets majorities everywhere, whichever comes first, gridlock shall continue.


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