Governance by Extortion
“The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy.” —Mitt Romney, Nov. 2, 2012
This expresses, in crystalline form, how the Republicans have practiced politics over the past many years. It boils down to, “If we are in control, we run over you and give you nothing; if you are in control, we set fire to the house.”
In 2006, Democrats took control of Congress. According to Republicans, they are bipartisan and would reach across the aisle. They didn’t. They began to use the filibuster in record numbers, blocking everything that came down the pike. Trent Lott, then Minority Whip, made the strategy very clear:
“The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail… and so far, it’s working for us. Democrats are the ones taking the blame for not getting anything done.” Trent Lott, July 2007
Immediately upon Obama’s election, Republicans, in what they claim was a bipartisan attempt to reach out, made persistent announcements that they hoped Obama would fail to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and bring the nation back from the brink of depression:
“I shamelessly say, no, I want him to fail….” —Rush Limbaugh, January 21, 2009
Question: “Do you agree with Rush Limbaugh that we shouldn’t hope for President Obama to succeed?”
Tom DeLay: “Well, exactly right. I don’t want this for our nation. That’s for sure.” —Tom Delay, former House Majority Leader, February 2009
“Absolutely we hope that his policies fail.” … “I believe his policies will fail, I don’t know, but I hope they fail.” —Rick Santorum, February 2009
In fact, it was Obama who was bipartisan—literally to a fault. He set the tone at his inauguration, inviting conservative evangelical Rick Warren to give the invocation, and then expanded from there. As I wrote in February 2009, “Obama went way out of his way to include Republicans; he even left pride behind and showed up at the Republicans’ doorstep, gave them large amounts of face time and more than a little respect; he quickly eliminated programs from his stimulus that Republicans complained about, like family planning provisions, and gave Republicans several key elements they demanded, like increased tax cuts, despite their limited effectiveness in situations such as this.” Republicans responded to his overtures by harshly criticizing him, and despite multiple concessions on Obama’s part for a plan already conservative in nature, they rewarded him with zero votes for his proposals in the House, and nearly unanimous votes against in the Senate—the only crossovers being Specter (who soon after became a Democrat), and Snow & Collins (the two Maine centrists); virtually a solid wall of Republicans slapping Obama in the face.
This pattern continued for most of Obama’s term: He begins by issuing proposals which are already compromises (for example, his health care plan was one created by conservatives in the 1990’s, and instituted by none other than the Republican nominee when he was governor), and then makes steady compromises, taking away things liberals want and adding things conservatives want. Throughout the process, conservatives call him vile names, and in the end, they vote in lockstep against Obama. Again and again–even on policies which just years or even months before were policies championed by conservatives themselves.
Their goals were not only clear, they were clearly stated:
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” —Mitch McConnell, October 23, 2010
Note that this was their first priority, more important than creating jobs or helping the economy. As evidenced by the fact that, while Democrats in 2008 hastened to pass a stimulus and many other bills to help the economy, Republicans, taking control of the House in 2010, did nothing on jobs or the economy at all. Unless reciting the Constitution—badly—is a “job creator.”
Republicans have made repeated claims of bipartisanship, and similar claims that Obama is harshly partisan. Bipartisanship requires compromise. It requires the agreement or cooperation of both parties on issues they disagree on; that is, in effect, the definition of the word. Obama has begun, continued, and ended with compromise and cooperation, much to his detriment amongst his own party.
“This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles.” —John Boehner, October 27, 2010.
Rush Limbaugh laid out the new conservative meaning of bipartisanship without the window dressing:
“To us, bipartisanship is [Democrats] being forced to agree with us after we politically have cleaned their clocks and beaten them.” Rush Limbaugh, at CPAC, February 28, 2009
This is not just a fad with them; when they sense a winning strategy, it becomes their core strategy, more or less permanently. In the 1990’s, they discovered that engineering language helped them; they have stuck with it ever since. In 2006, they discovered that filibusters and obstructionism worked for them; it is now their primary method of governance. Compromise? That too has gone the way of the dinosaur; no matter how hard Democrats try—and they have been trying, even after it was proven more or less hopeless to do so—Republicans refuse to compromise.
And now, they have taken on a new strategy: holding America hostage. They did it last year by threatening to default on the debt, and as a result, severely damaged America’s credit and good standing. Despite that, they are threatening it again.
Nor is it to bring down the deficit or erase the debt; their own policies would add trillions to the deficit. The threat of default, just like the excuse of things having to be “paid for,” only apply to things Democrats try to pass. If it is a Republican measure, it does not need to be paid for—on the claim that all of their policies are so beneficial, that somehow, down the road, they will magically pay for themselves. Which goes contrary to established fact.
They do not even stand by their own promises. They sign pledges against any tax increase—and then propose a spate of tax plans that would indirectly and directly increase taxes on the poor and the middle class. They complain about the “47 percent” as if they paid no taxes, put forth proposals to make the poor pay even more, and then lay out plans to cut taxes for rich people to zero.
And for these “principles,” there is no compromise; “bipartisanship” means that Democrats do whatever Republicans want. The primary task is not helping America or Americans, but achieving political mastery, even if it means bringing the economy crashing down.
This is the modern Republican Party.
That anybody votes for it is a monument to the audacity of propaganda and hate, to the victory of repeating lies and blaming the other guy over the attempt to govern by the traditional system, however faulty the system may be.
The policy is simple: if we win, give the other side nothing. If they win, set fire to the house and let them wallow in the blame.
If you vote Republican—at the local, state, or federal level—this is what you are voting for. Scorched Earth. Lies. Hate.
Because, as Trent Lott pointed out, it’s working for them.