One of the themes I always return to is “it’s cute when we do it”, which is shorthand for the way Democrats and their media dogwashers will denounce the Republicans for … well, take your pick: filibusters, indefinite detention, unconstitutional wars, signing statements, executive overreach, etc. … but then go eerily quiet when Obama does the exact same fucking thing. Or even worse, they will somehow contort themselves to believe that Obama’s behavior is better than Bush’s even when it is objectively worse. Witness the Center for American Regress, proclaiming that Obama has ended the War on Drugs. If you have been at this blog for more than a day, you know how ridiculous that statement is.
The Best Magazine on the Planet has highlighted a doozy of a column today that burrows into this rotten vein. Charles Pierce is arguing, as many are these days, that the Republican Party has gone insane and is now the realm of crazy obstructionist partisans. There’s a grain of truth to that. One of Romney’s foreign policy spokesmen just got run off; the repulsive bigot Bryan Fischer to declare it a huge win because the spokesman was gay. Much of the party seems to want a war with Iran. They want to balance the budget by cutting taxes and increasing spending. And a lot of the time they do seem motivated more by hatred of Obama than anything else. We almost crashed the debt ceiling and lost a potential Grand Bargain because many of them could not accept even a modest tax increase. And don’t even get me started on the anti-abortion laws being passed or gay marriage.
There’s a much larger part of the GOP that is definitely not insane. All year long, we were told that the Republicans were certain to nominate some lunatic like Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann. The enthusiasm for these candidates was clinching proof that half the country had completely lost it. And in the end, it wasn’t even close. They nominated Mitt Romney, a man so mainstream his brain is Auto-tuned. And the only reason they took Romney was that he was the least repulsive option. Had Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty or Paul Ryan or any sane, effective, conservative politicians jumped in the race (or in Pawlenty’s case, stayed in it), the voters would have strapped Mitt to a roof and sent him back to Utah. I’ve heard from several people that the worst thing about a Romney election in 2012 would be having to nominate him again in 2016.
There are number of Republicans out there making sane, rational, hard decisions. Scott Walker is facing recall in Wisconsin over measures that have saved the state over a billion dollars, mainly by breaking the union monopoly on health insurance. Bobby Jindal is working some miraculous reforms down in Louisiana. Chris Christie is fighting like hell to balance his budget. And numerous conservatives are leading the way on reforming our prisons and getting drug addicts into treatment instead of prison.
Hell, even some of the crazy people have their lucid moments. Gingrich has supported treating drug addicts instead of jailing them. Rick Santorum made a reasonable case against the HPV mandate. Ron Paul may be up a tree on monetary policy, but he has made far saner, far more sensible statements on the War on Terror, the War on Drugs and fiscal policy than just about anyone.
Including the Democrats.
See, that’s the thing these pundits keep missing. Yes, the Republicans are crazy; but the Democrats are too. Pierce starts out his article with a story about Rick Santorum saying Iran will develop nuclear weapons and start a suicidal conflagration. This supposedly proves how paranoid Republicans are. But as Doherty points out, Obama believes the same thing, or at least claims to.
Republicans might think we can balance our budget with tax rates lower than before World War II; but Democrats think we can balance our budget while spending like we’re still in World War II. Both sides backed the bailouts. Both sides have backed stimulus, albeit in different forms. Both sides have abused the filibuster. The Democrats have now gone three years without a budget in the Senate. Both sides support the Patriot Act, the War on Drugs and the increasing police state. You give me the worst rant from Rush Limbaugh, and I’ll have some dumbassery from Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to match it. Alan West ridiculously said there were 80 Communists in Congress; Steve Cohen compared the Republicans to Nazis. Republicans pretend science is a myth; Democrats pretend economics is a myth.
Both sides are stupid and useless. I’m willing to have an argument about which one is less stupid and less insane. But I’m not willing to put up with this bullshit about how Democrats and liberals are the source of sweetness and light. If they are the less insane option, it’s only a matter of degree and a small one at that.
The Republicans’ insanity does make the Democrats sane. The Republicans’ incompetence does not make the Democrats geniuses. In proclaiming, or least inferring, that this is the case, Pierce and every other liberal apologist is just playing the same partisan bullshit game that Sean Hannity does, only with less entertainment value, more condescension and a bad haircut.
There’s also this, from Pierce:
As conservatism was developing its powerful infrastructure, the Democratic party was still sucking its thumb over what happened to George McGovern in 1972. While conservative millionaires were pouring money into the construction of the network of institutions on the right, the Democrats were throwing themselves, through the creation of the Democratic Leadership Council, in the general direction of the same money. Nothing arose on the left, or around the Democratic party, that remotely resembled the formidable arsenal of opinion that developed on the right, and of which the Republicans took full advantage, not realizing at the time that all of that success was hollowing out their party’s essential intellect until all that is left today is raw, overwhelming id.
The Democrats were powerless against this, and they did not seek to be anything else. They became gifted at defense, surrendering bits of what was once fundamental to their party’s identity as a bulwark against losing it all.
First of all, the Democrats didn’t surrender bits of their identity. Bits of their identity — the welfare state, “fair” trade, gun control — became so discredited that they had to abandon them or become laughingstocks (well, bigger laughingstocks). Second, I’ll agree that the Republican party has become intellectually bankrupt and part of this is their focus on the news cycle and talking heads. But the Democrats’ biggest idea in the last decade was borrowed from Mitt Fucking Romney. Their bank reform was written, as I said months ago, by two guys so wrapped up in the banking industry their shit comes out in coin sleeves. And their rhetoric is little different from where it was twenty years ago: Republicans hate women, Republicans hate minorities, Republicans hate poor people, Republicans hate old people. Every time I hear Nancy Pelosi speak, I feel like it’s 1986 again and pretty girls will pretend I don’t exist.
Third, this is part of the general whining we’ve heard from the liberal intelligentsia, lately: Republicans have this big political organization and we don’t; Republicans have rich donors and we don’t; Republicans have Fox News and we don’t; Republicans attack us all the time and we don’t fight back (the latter repeated recently by Bruce Bartlett, who continues to mix intelligent commentary with jaw-dropping gaffes). They’ve made shadowy conspiracies around the Koch Brothers and fairly mainstream political organizations that are supposedly holding back the great tide of progressivism.
The thing is, the Democrats didn’t need to build these things over the last thirty years because they were already there. The editorial page of the New York Times has been indistinguishable from the Democratic Party for thirty years and still is. Democratic talking points have always been treated as gospel and still are. They collect massive amounts of money from celebrities, unions and businesses. And they have several TV channels like MSNBC and CurrentTV that will happily carry their propaganda.
So spare me the sob story about how they can’t fight the mighty Republicans. This is just another chapter in the “we are so awesome and our ideas so enlightened that the only reason people oppose us is evil propaganda and hatred” playbook liberals have been running since they lost the vote on which cave to keep the mastodon meat in. They simply can’t believe that their ideas are universally acclaimed. And so it must be a shadowy conspiracy. Or Fox News. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or something.
As I said at the beginning, I do agree that the Republican Party has serious problems. They are still trotting out 1980’s solutions to 2010’s problems. They are still in denial about our fiscal reality. They are still beholden to a lunatic fringe of the Religious Right. I don’t think they are ready for power.
However, I think the reason for this is a little different than just “Republicans are crazy”. Shikha Dalmia recently argued that conservatives should hope Mitt Romney loses because:
The GOP is in a state of intellectual flux, illustrated perfectly by the ideological heterodoxy of its presidential field. Various strains representing different interests are fighting for the soul of the GOP: The neocons are duking it out with anti-war Paulistas. Social moderates are trying to wrest some space from pro-life religious conservatives. Deficits and debt worry everyone, but there is no consensus on entitlement reform. The GOP allegedly stands for the free market—but it has yet to figure out whether Bush’s financial bailout was right or wrong.
Bingo. We are in the midst of a political upheaval, the likes of which we have not seen since the 1860’s or 1930’s. The Tea Party, Occupy, the lunatic fringes — these are signs that the old political alliances are falling apart, the old political wisdom disappearing. People are desperately grasping onto intellectual flotsam — socialized medicine, tax cuts, religious fundamentalism — because we are not used to this. For decades, we’ve been used to a slightly left of center party and slightly right of center party; you chose your team and stuck to them. But those definitions have broken. The GOP is in turmoil because it is trying to find a new identity. The Tories went through a similar crisis after the fall of the Major government.
Something different is going to be around in maybe four, maybe eight years. I have no idea what it will be. Maybe the big-government liberals and big-government conservatives will form a super party that will dominate us all. But I retain hope that what will emerge is a better order. The socialists are already marginalized, intellectually if not politically. And given how fast public opinion is changing on gays and drugs, I think the social conservatives will soon be marginalized as well.
I do fear that the surgery will come too late to save the patient. But the absurdity of this year’s election is part of the process of remaking the GOP. And, you know, that’s probably why it seems so crazy to the liberals. After all, they haven’t really changed their opinions since 1968.