Friday, February 13, 2009

It’s All About Them

By now it should be obvious: the Republicans and the right wing have decided that the most important thing for America isn’t that we get ourselves out of the messes we’re in. They’re not all that concerned about restoring the economy, getting people back to work, fixing the crippled public education system, or making health care affordable and accessible to everyone. Oh, sure, they say they want all of those things, but only on their terms. They don’t particularly care if someone who isn’t one of them comes up with a bright idea; in fact, they will do everything they can to torpedo it. If it doesn’t come from a True Believer, it isn’t worth considering, and they will do everything they can to sabotage it and take whatever collateral damage with it just for good measure. Their goal is to have them in power, regardless of the consequences. That’s all that matters. It’s that simple. And as Boatboy noted, it’s insane.

Holding onto power in a democracy simply for the sake of holding onto power is not sane policy. Resisting a public infusion into an economy suffering from a lack of private resources just to resist public expenditure is not sane policy. Willfully neglecting domestic infrastructure due to the expense while engaging in imperial nation-building at obscene and unmanaged cost is not sane policy. Opposing deficit spending in principle after eight years of the most profligate overspending by your own party is not sane policy.

That brings up another point. Perhaps — just perhaps — a party staying in power for a long time can be justified if they produce effective results. After all, that is what elections are for in the ideal sense; if you do a good job, the voters return you to office based on a fair performance evaluation. If you don’t, out you go, and if you’re mature and wise, you accept the judgment and learn from the lesson. But when you completely and spectacularly screw up everything you touch and do it in such a blatantly cynical manner that even some of your staunchest supporters throw up their hands in disgust and all you’re left with is a small band of gullible dittoheads who believe anything you say, that isn’t a mandate for leadership; it’s a cult.

One of the more telling aspects of this self-indulgence on the part of the GOP is the revenge factor. The three Republican moderates who crossed the aisle and voted for the president’s stimulus plan made it quite clear that they knew they were courting peril in the form of backlash from their party back in their home states. Not, it should be noted, from the voters, who are too busy wondering where their next mortgage payment or paycheck is coming from to think about party politics. But it’s clear that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is going to face a primary challenge when he runs for re-election next year, and he freely admits that he took that into consideration when he joined the other two Senators, both from Maine, in voting for the stimulus. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the bill. Forget the fact that the bill might save jobs or fix the roads and schools; who cares about that? It was that he didn’t follow the Path of Righteousness, and therefore he must be punished.

Here in Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist (R) is facing the same wrath.

As Democrats lavish praise on Florida’s Republican governor for enthusiastically supporting their economic stimulus package, Republicans are questioning whether Crist damaged his future.

”I don’t think he’s helped any national Republican ambitions he may have by stepping up to the plate and batting for the other team. . . . There’s a difference between working in a bipartisan way for the common good and switching sides and putting on the other team’s jersey,” said veteran Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. ”At the one moment when we’ve finally found our voice and remember who we are as Republicans, Charlie Crist forgets. It’s stunning.”

Notice what Mr. Castellanos considers is the first priority: helping national Republican ambitions. That’s it. The idea that the governor of the state would put the needs of the people, regardless of their party identification, ahead of political ambitions is, in his mind, crazy talk.

And so it goes. As Andrew Sullivan says, the GOP has declared war on President Obama and anyone else who stands in their way.

Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are. And the mountain of partisan vitriol Obama will have to climb every day of the next four or eight years.

The only saving grace to any of this is that Mr. Obama so far seems to be unflappable — he was able to joke about the Commerce Secretary post at a dinner honoring Abraham Lincoln last night — and in turn that has made the Republicans and the Orcosphere go to great lengths to be outrageous, much to the bemusement of those of us who are constantly looking for new material with which to mock them. You can’t make up stuff like Joe the Plumber leading a panel discussion on economic policy. That’s like casting Pauly Shore as Hamlet. Given the track record of the GOP and the economy over the last twenty years, you couldn’t do worse… but why give them a chance to prove it?

President Obama has set forth a lot of lofty goals: get the economy back on track, get our troops out of Iraq, help settle the Middle East and make nice with our nervous allies, reform health care, fix the public schools, and put an end to the mob-style politics in Washington. All of those tasks seem daunting, but I think he has a better chance of playing one-on-one basketball with Kim Jong Il than he does of accomplishing the last one.