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Last weekend, while performing the fall-Saturday ritual of refreshing the ESPN ScoreCenter app on my phone every few minutes, I couldn’t help but consider the irony that oozed like primordial slime from the Ohio State-Penn State matchup. Here were two shamed football programs, ostensibly in the midst of some of the toughest penalties ever imposed by the NCAA, that nevertheless brought a combined record of 13-2 into the game. They may be ineligible for bowl invitations next month, but here they were in late October, playing before a national television audience and reveling in the opportunity to ignore their sordid circumstances and pretend their game actually meant something.
While considering that irony, my thoughts turned (as they inevitably do these days) to politics, and to the races going on in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Both are swing states, and both are the victims of rampant skullduggery by the Republican Party during this campaign season. Even though many of them have been shot down by the courts, the GOP-designed Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and nearly two dozen other states stand an exponentially greater chance of suppressing thousands of Democratic votes than they do of stopping even one instance of supposed voter fraud. Meanwhile, Ohio’s Republican governor and his allies conspired to place pointless limits on early voting in that state – pointless, that is, except to deny convenient voting times to senior, minority, and college-age voters who might have difficulty making it to (and through) the long lines at their precincts next Tuesday, and who happen to be more likely than other citizens to vote Democratic. And even though that effort, too, was slapped down by the courts, urban precincts in Ohio as well as Pennsylvania and other swing states will be flooded on Tuesday with thugs from some cockamamie organization called “True the Vote” whose only goal is to intimidate minority voters to the extent that they give up the franchise.
Conflating college football and political gamesmanship isn’t too big a stretch – both pastimes encourage junkies to obsess over autumn poll-watching, after all – so last Saturday I began imagining an appropriate punishment for all the moral, ethical, strategic and policy misdeeds of the Republican Party over the last four, or 12, or 20 years (take your pick). Clearly, even the multitude of repercussions that have rained down on the Nittany Lions this past year are not (yet) achieving a suitably punitive effect. So if we extrapolate the NCAA’s sanctions regime to the political arena, it seems apparent that a Penn State-level reprimand won’t do – not even a decade-long, filibuster-proof majority for Senate Democrats, say, or a requirement that Fox News ditch the rabid punditry and broadcast only, you know, “news.”
No, what’s required here is the full-on SMU treatment from the 1980s – a “death penalty” for the entire Republican Party/Tea Party/Fox establishment, lasting several years, that will truly force American conservatives to confront the moral failings, the intellectual bankruptcy, the policymaking extremes, and the ineptitude at governance that currently befoul the institutions that promote and perpetuate their ideology. Many of these should-be-fatal flaws are discussed at length in the single most valuable political tome of 2012, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. In case you haven’t seen it yet, an excellent excerpt/summation can be found here.
Two caveats before we go any further. First, and most obviously, I have no illusions that what I’m suggesting (or anything vaguely approaching it) will ever come to pass. Heck, a few days from now the GOP might control every branch of government, for all any of us (except, perhaps, Nate Silver) know. And second, I’m NOT suggesting that conservatism itself take the gas. The opposing ends of our political spectrum, like the vast middle that begs both sides to come together, are essential to the effective functioning of a democracy. Conservatism must remain robust in order to counterbalance liberalism’s wilder tendencies, and vice versa.
But the modern Republican Party does not act as a counterweight, or as any kind of partner at all in the governance of this country. Instead it has become an albatross, an anvil, a nihilist anchor dragging our nation, our politics, and our people into the deep. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. Disloyal Opposition. A political party’s first, and most vital, mission is to bring its loyalists’ values and ideas into a governing arena in which all participants are expected to operate in good faith. Over the last six years, in particular, the GOP has abandoned this mission, taking opposition for opposition’s -sake to an unprecedented level … a level that frequently has endangered the nation’s financial health and security. Fueled by 24-hour barrages of vitriol on Fox News and talk radio, Republican/Tea partisans have forced their elected representatives to oppose, in unison, every idea put forward by President Obama and the Democrats – even when those ideas originated with GOP politicians or with the party’s “think tanks” and funders. Perpetuating that knee-jerk opposition, of course, has required…
2. The End of Compromise. Republicans and Tea partisans increasingly find negotiation and compromise anathema to their goals of crippling the government and hoarding power. As a result, over the last decade the GOP has shattered the cycle of power-balancing calibration and compromise that had kept our republic moving forward steadily for (most of) the previous 230 years. It has done so with no real purpose except to deny achievements to its opposition, and (hopefully) to accrue more power for itself. Over the last two years, House Republicans have pursued one piece of extremist legislation after another that they knew very well would never even reach a Senate committee, much less a Conference Committee. Meanwhile, in each of the three congressional terms since they lost the majority in 2006, Senate Republicans have ground the body to a halt with filibusters more frequently than the gimmick had been employed in all of American history before that year. Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock – a poster boy for a GOP death penalty if there ever was one – exemplified current Republican/Tea thinking when he said this summer, “You never compromise on principles. If people on the far left, they have a principle to stand by, they should never compromise; those of us on the right should not either.” Such adamant refusal to give the slightest bit of ground dominated the GOP’s debt-limit shenanigans last summer, and doomed the Obama-Boehner “grand bargain” as well as the supercommittee whose negotiations were supposed to avert the coming fiscal cliff. In the name of destroying collaborative comity in the capital, of course, Republican elected officials (as well as rank-and-file partisans) have given themselves over to…
3. Disrespect Bordering on Treason. It is one thing to oppose increased government spending to fend off a depression – even when such spending is recommended by practically every reputable economist, and even when it clearly has been working. It is one thing to oppose a reorganization of the nation’s healthcare system – even when that restructuring creates no government-run bureaucracy for providing such care, and even when it is based on a massive policy implemented by the very man you’ve nominated as your own presidential candidate. It is one thing to question the adequacy of security at a foreign consulate where an apparent terrorist attack has killed American diplomats. But it is another thing entirely to do this:
4. General Misanthropy. Of course, seeking to de-legitimize one’s own president through tactics that reek of racism and xenophobia is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the GOP’s systematic villainization of everyone, pretty much, except the straight white men who will dominate Mitt Romney’s electorate on Tuesday. From “You lie!” to “Let him die!” … from seeking to deny women insurance coverage for contraception to insisting that they carry rapists’ zygotes to term … and on to their continued efforts to banish gay Americans from two sacred institutions, the military and marriage … Republicans ever more frequently betray an astonishing disregard for their fellow men (and women). Their unreality on immigration alone – exemplified by Romney’s “self-deportation” canard, which is amazingly to the left of rank-and-file, “round ‘em up!” Republicans as well as the state of Arizona – is enough to call the party’s sanity, never mind its misanthropy, into question. Which reminds me…
5. The Assault On Reason. Sorry to borrow the title of an Al Gore book – I know the very mention of his name enrages conservatives, which is something I’m clearly trying not to do here. But even in the years since Gore launched his tirade against climate-change deniers, Terri Schiavo’s-brain-is-functioning rooters, imposing-democracy-down-the-barrel-of-a-gun warmongers, and other GOP agents of unreason, the evidence against Republican adaptability to things like science and facts has continued to mount. Creationist museums, birtherism, “legitimate” or “forcible” rape, “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” Exodus International (if not the quality of a Chick-Fil-A sandwich), the notion that “drill, baby, drill!” can solve our energy problems while allowing humanity to survive the century – hell, anything you’re liable to read in a Texas-approved school textbook. Some of it may be rooted in ancient religious teachings that have not quite yet been rendered universally inapplicable to modern society. But all of it, for those with a shred of insight into the real workings of mankind and the world, argues forcefully that modern Republicans have no business sharing a room (if not a city) with the levers of power in our nation. And part of the reason is that, for today’s GOP…
6. Randism Rules. Even when I wrote my too-exhaustive series, “A Liberal Reads Ayn Rand,” three years ago, I didn’t really imagine that in 2012 the American electorate would truly be considering a full-fledged experiment with Objectivism. Yet that’s the precipice from which we dangle this weekend, with Mitt Romney bemoaning half-a-nation of looters, Paul Ryan standing an election and a heartbeat away from the presidency, and the Republican Party having devoted itself entirely to Randian selfishness. It’s no longer enough to reform our entitlements by tinkering around the edges (increasing the retirement age, loosening the income limits on payroll taxes, means-testing benefits) in ways that would keep Social Security and Medicare solvent and functioning – now they must be privatized or voucherized in ways that would decimate them in the long term. It’s no longer “conservative” policy to keep programs like Food Stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children flexible with changing economic times, expanding them in a recession and reining them in when things get better – now they must be gutted, for good. It is the destruction of the safety net, the tearing up of the social contract, that Republicans favor now. Of course, Romney has fought like mad to smooth these radical edges of GOP ideology over the past month. But his threats against infinitesimal spending programs such as NPR, PBS, the NEA and NEH are merely a smokescreen blocking his history of opposition to larger domestic programs … like FEMA. How’s that working out now, governor?
7. States’ Wrongs. Mitt, as recently as the GOP primaries, was arguing that all sorts of programs like FEMA be transferred to the states for funding and implementation – or, better yet, to the private sector. But what would be the results of such decentralization of traditionally federal functions? Well, we already have an estimate from the National Association of Public Hospitals that the Supreme Court’s decision removing the Medicaid mandate from Obamacare will trigger a race to the bottom among red states that don’t want to spend that money on its lower-income citizens, and will cost the nation $53 billion in additional healthcare costs brought on by unnecessary emergency-room visits and other forms of inefficient care. Imagine what will happen if Romney succeeds in turning Medicaid into a program of block grants to the states! Mississippi and Alabama and Texas will revert to third-world status in healthcare provision, in all likelihood. For that matter, imagine the state-to-state inequities in, say, disaster-relief efforts that would result from Romney’s vision of allowing/requiring each state to fund and implement its own regime in that area. Imagine the varying responses to Hurricane Sandy in, say, Maryland and Virginia if Bob McDonnell is left to prioritize tax cuts over emergency-management funding! The GOP has succeeded wildly with its under-the-radar efforts to turn state capitals red over the last decade, and the results have included the Arizona immigration laws, the teaching of creationism in Kansas’ public schools, trans-vaginal ultrasounds in Virginia and elsewhere, etc., etc.
8. Moneybags. Entirely too many of these GOP efforts have been bankrolled by, and implemented in the express service of, the sorts of wealthy donors who have dominated giving to Mitt Romney in 2012. The Republican Party is bought and paid for by these men – fewer than a dozen of whom are responsible for the vast majority of the money that has flooded into the RNC and its congressional affiliates as well as the pro-Romney super-PACs. A decade ago, political scientist Thomas Frank documented in What’s the Matter with Kansas the manner in which Republicans have systematically convinced lower- and middle-class whites to vote against their economic interests, by tempting them with the bread and circuses of racism, xenophobia, god and guns – and then, once in power, have subverted their interests in order to reward the wealthy donors who have financed their ascent. This cycle of trickery has only expanded since then, abetted by the Citizens United decision, the extremist policy-writing group ALEC, and the rise of the super-PACs. What do we imagine Sheldon Adelson or the Koch Brothers expect in return for the hundreds of millions they’re spending to buy this election? Massive tax cuts and deregulation, certainly. War with Iran, perhaps? And does anyone imagine that Mitt and his fellow Republicans will somehow deny their uber-wealthy patrons exactly what they want, no matter the damage to the rest of our society?
9. Laissez-Faire Lunacy. The destructive financial panic of 2008 was centered, most everyone agrees – whether they blame Republicans, Democrats or both for starting it — in speculating banks and unshackled lenders, loosened Federal Reserve policies and the tireless promotion of an “ownership society.” The mainstream-Republican position in the fall of 2008, as evidenced by the initial House vote on the TARP legislation, was to let the nation’s largest banks fail – regardless of the cataclysmic damage such a failure to act would have imposed upon the worldwide economy. Similarly, many Republicans, including Mitt Romney – whether out of actual free-market radicalism, knee-jerk opposition to anything endeavored by President Obama, or some other incentive – opposed the administration’s provision of government support to GM and Chrysler as they went through bankruptcy in 2009. Yet even after opposing their survival the previous year, Republicans fought tooth and nail against the imposition of new regulations on Wall Street banks that were designed to avert another meltdown like the last one. Meanwhile, cap-and-trade legislation was filibustered in the Senate because Republicans – for whom cap-and-trade once was the party’s official line! – could no longer countenance new restrictions on carbon-dioxide polluters (planetary survival be damned). The GOP’s refusal to balance its free-market obstinacy, on the one hand, with the obvious need to rejigger the relationships between government and business in the wake of a crisis, leaves the party incapable of managing the nation’s economy – at least not to the benefit of anyone other than the One Percent, and at the expense of the rest of us.
10. Electoral Hijinks And Low Blows. In addition to the Voter-ID laws, early-voting restrictions and crass voter-intimidation efforts discussed about 2,000 words ago, evidence is mounting that Republican Party officials and wealthy supporters are conspiring (again) to ensure that the tabulated results on Election Day will not accurately reflect the will of the people. An article by Victoria Collier in the current issue of Harper’s, titled “How To Rig An Election” (the full text sadly is available only by subscription, though an excerpt can be found here), details the software insecurities inherent in paper-free electronic voting machines; the numerous recent instances in which electoral results in states like Georgia, Texas and Arizona (not to mention the national elections of 2000 and 2004) diverged more than a bit suspiciously from polling data in the days before (and on the day of) those votes; and, critically, how vote-machine makers like ES&S, Sequoia, Dominion, and Triad maintain deep ties to the Republican Party and/or to Romney personally. While these facts do not provide indisputable evidence that such shenanigans will take place on Tuesday, they dovetail nicely with what we know about the state-by-state efforts to suppress the Democratic vote. And they make it clear that even Republicans have recognized for a decade or more that they enjoy no chance to win national elections on a legitimate basis. Therefore, they must manufacture a trimmed electorate that will be most amenable to them, via vote suppression, and frequently they must strive to game the tabulation system in ways that might ensure their victories (or, at least, mitigate their losses).
Some folks will be surprised that I have identified 10 disqualifying characteristics of the modern GOP without devoting one of those points to, or even once using, the word “hypocrisy.” That’s because the word is baked into practically everything the Republican Party says and does: The hypocrisy of morally and intellectually flawed men attempting to impose their religious “values” on the rest of us. The hypocrisy of men who studiously avoided military service themselves (or any form of public service outside politics, for that matter) so enthusiastically committing other people’s sons and daughters to needless warfare, and playing armchair-quarterback over the national-security decisions taken by others. The hypocrisy of pitching a social-issues ideology to struggling voters, then subverting those concerns to the pursuit of policies that perpetuate the societal and economic dominance of a tiny minority of super-wealthy and connected donors.
Outside my fantasyland of a solution to the problems of modern Republicanism, it’s difficult to imagine that these burdens to our society (and political life) will be eased anytime soon. Indeed, the GOP is hardly dissuaded even by cacophonous expressions of the public will, like the heavy losses they suffered in 2006 and ‘08, and there seems no likelihood that such a landslide will afflict the party next week. And so we’ll probably continue down the current path, under either President Obama or President Romney. And our political salvation will have to wait, if it is to come at all, until one party overcomes its long-term aversion to serving the majority of its people.
Then again, you never know.