A More Perfect Union
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus was pretty clear here.
God loves everyone. His Son Jesus advises us, for our own good, to do the same. He was also pretty clear about who that “everyone” included. Not just those that agree with us, but all those who treat us badly, make us mad, and may even persecute us.
The political situation in this country is pretty good evidence that people aren’t taking that advise.
CBS released a poll which shows that there are very few people left in the middle of our political spectrum. The rancor of the past 13 years or so has forced most people to take a side. The result is that everyone thinks that the other guy is crazy.
Compared to partisans, independents actually don’t appear stuck in the middle: just 29 percent of them see both parties as too extreme. Independents instead tend to pick only one of the parties as too extreme, so this isn’t really a case of an alienated center watching both parties move further away. (And it also squares with the fact that many people who call themselves independent do in fact lean to one side.)
Here’s how that affects our politics.
Americans want deals and compromises in principle, and from both sides -eight in ten say they’d like to see more of it. But when those Republican voters back home see congressional Democrats as too extreme, and vice versa for Democratic voters, then members to who cut deals across the aisle are bound to face suspicion: has that extreme other side really changed its stripes? Did our side really get more than we gave? And it’s easy to see why activists on both sides are turned off by the very thought of cooperation with another party that’s so (seemingly) out of touch.
The result is that voters have given their representatives an impossible task. They dislike deadlock, but they are so skeptical of the motives of the other side, that they question any concessions that necessarily have to be made in order to reach a compromise. In other words, voters say that they want compromise, but they punish the politicians who in fact attempt to make a deal and reward those who, in principle, refuse to support anything but the party line.
Because the extremes appear to outnumber the middle, our government has lost the ability to compromise. Instead it is all about maneuvering for power and counting the “scalps” that can be accumulated along the way. We have replaced practical reality with political gamesmanship and obsessive ideology.
Here are a few recent examples.
The House recently voted for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. It passed on a strict party line vote, but will have no practical effect on the law. The only value of this vote is to provide Republican members of the House a “scalp” to take home with them and show to their supporters. The vote may help Republicans build the case for electing more Republican Senators in 2014, but Senator Tom Coburn summarized reality when he said, “The only way you get rid of Obamacare is winning the 2016 election.”
Republican Senators Lee and Rand Paul have been circulating a letter threatening to shut down the government in the fall if President Obama doesn’t stop the Obamacare rollout. This is another activity, like the previous one, that is perilous for Republicans. The last time Republicans shut down the government, they paid a dear price at the polls and single-handedly rescued Bill Clinton’s Presidency from the Lewinsky scandal.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., called it the “dumbest idea” he had ever heard, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned against more shutdown “shenanigans.” Some senators who initially backed the idea, like Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have rescinded their support for it.
Even if House Republicans WERE successful in shutting down the government, that action, like the votes in the House, would only be symbolic. The Congressional Research Service has reported that a government shutdown would not slow the Obamacare rollout. That’s because Obamacare has other sources funding that are beyond the reach of the sorts of annual appropriations controlled by the House.
So why try? According to Senator Ted Cruz, who is backing the government shutdown gambit, “No major entitlement, once it has been implemented, has ever been unwound,” he said. “If we don’t do it now, in all likelihood we never will.”
The reality about Obamacare is that the game is over. By 2016, the law will be fully implemented. State exchanges will be up and running. Somewhere around 20M people who previously couldn’t afford to purchase insurance themselves, will be insured. Those people are not going to vote for anyone who promises to take away their health insurance. The margin of victory in 2012 was 5M. It will be political suicide for any candidate for national office to start the race with a 20M deficit. The 2012 election was the best opportunity for Republicans to repeal Obamacare, and they failed. Their base, however, won’t allow them to admit defeat. Instead they may inflict some very real economic damage to the country.
Republicans are convinced that there must be a scandal somewhere. The harder they look, however, the less they find. Yet they continue to dig, because the digging itself supports the conservative partisan view that Democrats are corrupt. So we have the spectacle of Rep Issa issuing subpoenas for more documents from the IRS, the state Department, and the Justice Department while the information that they are supplying only continues to support the administrations original claims. Issa claims that the agencies involved are holding back valuable information, but that is also more political grandstanding. The IRA has 170 people including 70 lawyers working on delivering the documents that Issa has requested. His demands deliberately exceed their ability to respond.
Here’s what the documents that have been delivered so far have shown.
There was no executive branch involvement in the methods the IRS created to screen applications for non-profit status. In fact, both liberal and conservative groups were subjected to the same types of screens.
While mistakes were made in Benghazi, there was no conspiracy to misrepresent the information shared with the public.
The failed attempt to trace guns being traded across the Mexican border was just that. There was no attempt by the White House to cover up what was a poorly designed operation from the start.
The failures in each case were bureaucratic, not political.
Republicans aren’t particularly interested in what has the potential to be a real scandal – domestic spying.
We’re going to see this spin up again this fall when there is another discussion about spending.
The reality is that the sequester has cost both jobs and economic growth, but it has slowed the growth in debt to the point where it is possible with additional economic stimulus that we could grow our economy faster than our debt.
This should be good news. Instead we are going to see more attempts to cut spending rather than stimulate growth because it was never about the debt. It was always about reducing the size of government and weakening the traditional Democratic base.
Republicans of almost all stripes have admitted that if they are to have any hope of competing in future national elections, they have to repair their dismal image with immigrants. The Senate in a brief moment of clarity managed to pass an immigration reform bill, but only after committing to spend $30B to build more fences and hire more border control agents. Some have estimated that this cost works out to $40K per immigrant and may only serve to redirect the flow of immigrants from the border to other coastal locations.
The CBO estimated that the Senate bill would reduce the debt over the next decade by $135B and cut the flow of illegal immigrants by 50%. Because of the path to citizenship, it would also reduce the number of undocumented workers living in this country over the next decade to 5M.
Yet it was not enough for House Republicans who rejected the whole thing. They want to focus on questionable enforcement measures first. Some reject the whole notion of a path to citizenship.
Because they have a base that has been supporting candidates with xenophobic positions against all immigration. This even though President Bush proposed a similar plan in his administration and Reagan signed the Immigration Reform Act in 1986 which legalized 3M undocumented workers.
For those interested in history, what we are seeing in politics today is fascinating. Ideas that Republicans created and promoted for decades are no longer recognizable to that party. Obamacare was a Republican alternative to single-payor healthcare reform and was actually successfully implemented by Mitt Romney in MA. Cap and Trade, monetary stimulus, tax reform, and entitlement reform were ALL originally Republican ideas. The have ALL been proposed at one point or another by this administration as “common sense” approaches to solve problems. They have ALL been rejected by today’s Republican Party. This used to be the party promoting the intelligence of the free market. It has become the party of opposed-to-whatever-the-Democrats- support.
There is a solution coming because demographics are running in the direction of Democrats.
The problem is that even this doesn’t resolve the underlying erosion in democracy as an effective method to resolve differences between political extremes. Instead we appear to be drifting towards more of a parliamentary democracy where the only times things get done is when one party controls the government.
While I would prefer that Democratic ideas prevail, I would not want that to happen as a result of the death of the Republican party. If that’s what occurs, it will be a dark legacy for our troubled time.