Thursday, July 15, 2010

Voters Poised to Ratify Destructive Republican Alterations to Our Political System

Vice President Joe Biden doubts there will be “a grand debacle” for the Democrats in November, but the experts believe the Republicans will hold a small majority in the House and come close to taking the Senate. E.J. Dionne wrote that if the election were held now, the Republicans would seize the House. Emory political scientist Alan Abramowitz thinks the Republicans will gain just enough seats for a majority—39. Charlie Cook, believes the number will be in the low 40s.

Likely Policy Changes and Inquisitions

In concrete terms, this means To get budgets and essential legislation passed, President Obama will have to consent to extending all or part of the Bush tax cut for the rich. With the help of the so called “New Democrats,” deregulation will resume. Obama will have a much more difficult time extracting us from two pointless wars.

It also means that armed with subpoenas, the Republicans will be probing Obama’s role in Illinois politics and his dealings with a contributor and developer who has since gone to prison.

On instructions from the Bush White House, Michael Fitzgerald taped thousands of hours of conversations among Illinois Democratic politicians, and this will prove a treasure trove for House Republicans bent on digging up scandal.
When Bill Clinton was subjected to a massive inquisition, the drive was driven by rage that he had won and by the belief of the Religious and Hard Right that he lacked legitimacy. Now we have an African American president who has been falsely called a socialist. The coming witch hunt might make Whitewater look like a Sunday school picnic.

Ratifying Damaging Changes to Our Political System And Rewarding Obstructionism
The worst consequence of a Republican victory will be that voters would have endorsed abuse of the filibuster and legitimized tactics of bald faced lies and obstructionism. American politicians have always resorted to lies on occasion and the filibuster has been used in the past. Now the filibuster threatened routinely and political commentators simply report as though the 60 vote requirement is written somewhere in stone. The ordinary voter knows that the Democrats are supposed to control Congress, is unwilling to do any analysis beyond that, and simply concludes the Democrats are to blame for accomplishing little.

Politicians have lied in the past, but now Republicans have made the flat, outright lie a tool deployed almost daily. The lie is repeated and reported upon without correction and is accepted by many. Today’s lies are not even clever distortions or half-truths. They are not the least bit artful and are part of an approach to politics that rejects American precedents for comity, civility, and compromise. Republicans think the outright lies and continual obstructionism are natural and legitimate because they no longer subscribe to traditional American political mores. They have imported an approach from Great Britain, and a victory in 2010 would mean that voters have ratified this effort to remodel American politics and the way Congress operates.

A Republican attack advertisement being used in Pennsylvania demonstrates, in a small way, how dishonest the Republicans have become. It displays a 50 foot tall Nancy Pelosi acting as a puppeteer, manipulating ten Pennsylvania Democrats. The implications are that these Democrats do not vote as they see fit and that Democrats are required to vote in lock step. We Americans traditionally frown upon too much party spirit and too much party discipline. The Republican advertisement suggests that Pelosi in imposing the kind of discipline found in foreign countries. In point of fact, it is House Republicans who vote in lock step on major legislation. The one major exception is a New Orleans Republican who voted with the Democrats on the stimulus bill.

Now in the minority in both Houses, Republicans have decided to oppose almost every major piece of legislation. They view their responsibility as getting back in power, not helping to govern. Even when Democrats fill legislation with Republican amendments and rely upon past Republican proposals, as in the case of health care and environmental legislation, the Republicans repeatedly claim that all their ideas were ignored and that the Democrats had moved very far to the left. Senator Charles Grassley, who authored the provision paying for end of life health management, later led the party in denouncing that provision, saying it established “death panels.” Jon Kyl, the number two Republican in the Senate, openly admitted to an interviewer that since 2009, the Republican strategy was to oppose major Democratic initiatives. Why would he admit something like this? He simply assumed that the interviewer shared his belief that the British parliamentary take no prisoners approach should apply here in the United States, even in times of deep crisis.

The Followers of Gingrich Adopted the British Parliamentary Model

Lock-step voting, strict party discipline, and continual threats of filibusters in the Senate have proven to be highly effective political tactics that assure the Republicans great gains in November 2010. The obstruction has limited the Democrats legislative accomplishments and has enabled the GOP to blame the Democrats for accomplishing little and also for not quickly restoring prosperity. In some respects, they have weakened policies to the point that they might not work well. Hence, the stimulus was under-funded and the health care plan gave too much to the insurance industry. In any case, the Democrats will have to bear all of the blame.
The GOP, in both the House and Senate, have morphed into a British style party. It has been a development that has been in the works since the 1990s. It is interesting that in this year, the Brits conducted an American-style campaign and the new government has issued a “Contract with Britain.” On this side of the pond, we are into the second year of a British-style Republican Party. Yale political scientist Stephen Skowronek says it is “something completely new.”

However, the obstructionism, high degree of cohesiveness, and strict party discipline have been in the works for some time and are rooted in the “revolution” former Speaker Newt Gingrich brought to Republican politics. Gingrich admired the British parliamentary system and wanted to remodel the House of Representatives along those lines. He detested as “petty politics” the traditional method of debate, haggling, and eventual compromise. He saw James Madison’s belief in political pluralism as corrupting and opposed log-rolling as an obstacle to party government. Known as a “bomb thrower,” he wanted to end the 40 years of Democratic domination of the House by attacking the tradition of civility. He thought the party’s leaders were weaklings for co-operating with the Democrats to pass legislation. He expected his colleagues to be on a permanent political war footing. This is what he considered “grand partisanship.” The idea was to seize power in any way possible.

As speaker he sought to further weaken the committees, because their mode of operation was based on the traditional way of operating; they undermined his model of party government. Republican leaders have far greater power than their Democratic counterparts in appointing and removing committee chairmen. This tight control over committee posts enables them to enforce tight discipline in the ranks. In the Senate, discipline is so tight that Republican senators are forbidden to even talk to Democrats about some matters without permission of the leadership.
Since the ascendency of Newt Gingrich, Republicans have come to believe that the House of Representatives should function like the British House of Commons. The conduct of Senate Republicans makes clear they now see politics as all out political warfare all the time—even in time of deep economic crisis. This is a foreign approach to government, which brings greater efficiency and can result in the dramatic fall of governments and new elections to test the public mood. Of course, our problem is that the president and members of Congress are elected for fixed terms.

The parliamentary model calls for one party rule, making collaboration and compromise unnecessary. When in control of the House, Republicans frequently barred Democrats from committee meetings. Often lobbyists were brought in to sit with the committees in drafting legislation. When Democrats tried to hold a meeting as a committee caucus, they were arrested. Sometimes they full Democratic caucus was even barred from using a meeting room in the Capitol. There were times when Democrats were excluded from conference committees. These actions may not been taken so much out of meanness; they simply reflected a very different view of how the House should function.

Like Woodrow Wilson, Gingrich thought it possible to informally amend the Constitution through practices, actions and precedents. Essentially, he set out to run the House along the lines of the British House of Commons.
Professor Gingrich believed that political discussions should educate the voters, and he was often the source of fresh ideas and discourses intended to educate voters. Today, however, Republicans no longer offer fresh ideas or attempt to educate voters. In fact, when not using tried and true hot button issues, they have taken to resorting to flat-out falsehoods, which the mainstream media rarely fact-checks. Instead of educating they have taken to instigating violence and encouraging people to disrupt public meetings. In these respects, they are not following the British model, but these tactics have proven to be highly effective.

Gingrich also believed in legislative supremacy, and he sought to weaken the Clinton White House. His decision to shut down government was consistent with this outlook. A consistent advocate of a parliamentary system, he sought to reduce checks and balances, seeing them as obstacles to action. Gingrich was not in office when George W. Bush was in power, but his followers continued to implement his philosophy of one party rule. The difference was that they shelved parliamentary supremacy and took orders from the Republican White House. Indeed, their willingness to trim checks and balances probably predisposed them to support the emergence of the unitary executive under Bush.

If Republicans retake the House, look for monumental clashes. Obama will be forced to surrender on several fronts, and that still will not save him from relentless probes.

Democrats in both chambers lack the cohesiveness that characterizes the Republicans. The Democratic Party remains a diffuse confederacy. Democrats are living in the past and expect the legislative process to work as it always has. They do not seem to realize that the Republicans have passed through a major transformation and that they are not likely to return to civility, bartering, and compromise.

A Time of Crisis is ideal for the Republican Changes to the Political System
The completion of the Republican transformation came at a time when voters are in a state of crisis, worried about terrorism, a fragile financial system, and lingering unemployment. Under these circumstances, people swing to the right, embracing political fundamentalism.

A majority accepts the content of decades of Republican propaganda as the conventional wisdom. This is why most people accept the claims of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell that the Republicans are not obstructionists, even though much of what they reject was first proposed by them. McConnell refers to cap and trade as part of the leftist agenda even though Republicans first proposed it as a alternative to a carbons tax. The health care reform was built on Mitt Romney's principle that each person has an obligation to buy insurance. Offering health care through the insurance companies was the heart of the Republican plan offered by John Chaffey and other Republicans a decade and a half ago.
At one point, the Republicans denounced the Obama administration for leaning too hard on BP. This is still the opinion of most Republicans in the House. The 150 member Republican Study group has taken this position and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the Energy Committee has apologized to BP for the mistreatment it received at the hands of President Barack Obama. Two Republican Senate candidates have said the same thing.

Yet, Boehner now claims that it is Obama's job to personally stop the Gulf oil leak. It is another absurd claim, but the Democrats should figure out how to point to his inconsistency and refute the claim. Given today’s climate, effective rebuttals will sway only a few voters and possible motivate a few more Democrats to turn out in November.

Most voters either have not noticed Republican obstructionism or approve of it. The new fact is that it takes 60 Senate votes to make a majority, and the public seems to be ok with it. Mainstream media people report on it as though this was long been a fact. Likewise, the many Republican inconsistencies and lies have not damaged the GOP. This is partly because the GOP far surpasses the Democrats in communications skills and political tactical know-how. In 2010, it is probably possible to make any absurd claim against the Democrats and be able to make it stick. A large majority of Republicans still think Barack Obama was born in Africa.

The Risk of Permanent Damage to Our System

A final irony is that the Tea Bag wing of the Republican Party, which touts its patriotism and devotion to American tradition, is unwittingly leading the charge to make permanent the importation of major elements of the British system. Imagine someone in the uniform of a Continental Army soldier carrying the Union Jack. They are also busy selling interpretations of the Constitution that have no basis in precedent or law. They think the Second Amendment legitimizes using violence against government when ballots do not accomplish what they want--- what they call the “Second Amendment option” and they think simple legislation can strip children of illegal immigrants of citizenship, even though the Fourteenth Amendment says otherwise. There is a certain lawlessness among these people who wrap themselves in our beloved Constitution and flag.
We could be overwhelmed by very destructive political forces, and there is no guarantee that the damage can be fixed sometime in the future. What is at stake is real damage to our political system, and this is something voters are likely to take into consideration.

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