The fiscal cliff negotiations have simply been too depressing to be believed.
From David Atkins at Digby’s place:
On the long-term consequences, it’s true that the President’s inability to stick to a negotiating position may embolden Republicans to take future hostages. But it’s also entirely unclear that Republicans wouldn’t be emboldened, anyway.
There is no reason to believe that the Republicans wouldn’t do everything in their power to hold the debt ceiling hostage no matter how strongly Obama and Reid had negotiated on the fiscal cliff. If the President takes the Constitutional option to avoid hostage-taking over the debt ceiling, there’s no reason to believe that the Republicans wouldn’t portray him as a dictatorial King George spending hard-working Americans out of their sustenance, justifying their efforts to take even more hostages in the near future out of formerly mundane government functions.[snip]
It doesn’t matter that Americans in general blame Republicans for the fiscal cliff mess far more than Democrats. What matters is that in the vast majority of Republican districts they’re considered heroes for standing up to the evil President, while the few sane or vulnerable ones in the House GOP caucus have no power. So why would they compromise? Why would they buckle? Their voters don’t want them to, and any retreat would only mean a potential challenge from the right. Most of them aren’t the least bit afraid of a Democratic opponent in 2014.
And so the depressing cycle continues. Republicans get crazier and crazier and behave in ever less socially acceptable ways and are rewarded by Republican voters, who as Atkins points out, are even more nuts than elected Republicans:
The truth is far more disturbing: the people in these districts, particularly the ones who vote in Republican primaries, know precisely what their representatives are doing and what they stand for. They like it, and continue to vote for representatives even farther to the right year after year. Half of Republicans believe ACORN (read, black government workers) stole the election for Obama. 44% of Republicans either want to secede or simply aren’t sure. Self-described conservatives were 14 percentage points more likely to want to a buy a gun after the Sandy Hook massacre than not.
There’s no easy answer.
We are in uncharted waters, an era unprecedented since the Civil War in which one side is willing to let the country burn down in order to achieve its goals. Californians already know this well, having been forced into perpetual fiscal crises by a bare 1/3 Republican remnant in each chamber. Even as Republicans continued to slowly lose ground and seats, the vast majority of the caucus remained entrenched, fearing only opposition from the right. They were more than happy to let the Democratic-controlled state slip into chaos in order to get their way. California Democrats were left in the ugly position of making a series of Sophie’s Choices, determining only which children to shoot to appease the tiny Republican minority. In an era of perpetual and consequence-free hostage taking, the only calculation that matters is which hostages to save and which ones to shoot.
So what do we do? California Democrats and progressives devised a strategy to deal with the mess:
The first step requires being honest about how politics now works. Another veteran of those California political wars, David Atkins, observed that expecting Republicans to act rationally is to misunderstand how the party operates:
The Republican electoral chips are stashed safely in gerrymandered hands, and any losses over fiscal cliffs or debt ceilings only hurt the President and the nation’s perception of government. There’s no downside for the GOP in bluffing every time in the hopes that the President will fold. Why not? When you’re playing with house money, it makes sense to go all in on every hand.
This realization led California Democrats and progressives away from focusing on the specifics of a deal and toward the kind of process and political changes that would end the obstructionism for good. Once it was realized the problems were deeper, people started working on the lasting solutions.
After that it was a simple but clear message:
Progressive organizations, websites like Calitics, and an increasing number of Democratic elected officials also began adopting similar messaging. They pointed out that Republicans did not share California’s values, that they were willing to destroy the state to impose their extremist values on a population that did not want them, and that the only answer was to take away their power to do that. It was made clear to people that problem wasn’t bad legislators unwilling to “come together” but that a group of extremists had used loopholes to block good things from happening and to cause people harm.
California also reformed its redistricting process, which ended gerrymandering and created districts that actually represented the real world. The result was that districts which had previously been safe were suddenly no longer safe as Republican reps had to face fair elections.
At a national level similar reforms are necessary.
The advantage Democrats have in this situation is that majority public opinion and the majority of actual American voters are on their side. The only thing that allows Republicans to take their hostages in the first place is a series of arcane rules that give the minority undue influence. Among those rules are:
Gerrymandered Congressional districts
Dysfunctional filibuster rules
Disproportionate Senate representation
Corrupt lobbying laws
Campaign finance laws that give outsized political influence to a few billionaires
Archaic electoral college rules
Discriminatory workday elections
Bottom line is that Republicans in Congress can’t be reasoned, and won’t be reasoned with. They are absolutely prepared to harm the US to get their way. Wreck the economy to get a tax break for millionaires? Done. Ruin the nation’s credit rating to destroy unemployment insurance? They’ll dance in the streets. We’re dealing with extremist ideologues who frankly don’t care about the consequences of their actions so long as they get their way.
What we’re seeing here is the final throes of a dying movement that is prepared to destroy the rest of us as it goes down to defeat. The fundamentalist mindset, transferred from religion to politics, demands purity.
Andrew Sullivan on the Republican mindset:
Senator Ben Nelson said recently that many Republicans have yet to accept the presidential election of 2008, let alone the re-election of 2012. I see no real evidence to the contrary. Whether this is due to race, or culture, or fanaticism (they regarded Bill Clinton as illegitimate as well) I do not pretend to know. We know also, of course, that the corrupt gerrymandering of House districts allows those with power to rig the system so they can retain power – even when they have no broad public support. And we know that the whitest, rightest part of the Republican base controls the primaries and is determined to destroy any member of Congress who votes against the religion of permanent insolvency – which is what “no-revenue-increases-ever” means as we near a demographic wave of older folks. What a perverse cause: a party dedicated above all to the permanent, chronic insolvency of the American government. The cuts they need without any new revenues would simply end the welfare state in America and would never be tolerated by the middle classes in practice. And tax reform will only get us so far.
At a basic level, I welcome a public discussion about government and its role in our lives. I favor an activist government not because I believe government should be big but because I believe in the basics of the small d democratic project – that when we come together and gather our collective wisdom and grapple with the issues honestly we can do better. Paul Krugman says we should think of government as a giant insurance company with an army. Carl Sagan says we should regard every new policy as an experiment, one we can end at any time and try a new experiment. Deregulation and cutting taxes were an experiment. The Great Society programs were an experiment. We can look at the outcomes and debate them honestly. As one example, after ten years, the Great Society programs had reduced poverty to its lowest rate in American history; as the 1980s began and those programs were pared back or ended, the poverty rate began rising again. Cutting taxes on the wealthy has greatly increased economic disparity. Deregulation has resulted in a series of financial and economic crises starting with the 1987 stock market crash up through 2008. These are experiments. Our current approach is unsustainable and neurotically self-destructive.
At the end of the day, the Republican argument comes down to “Do it our way or the country gets it.” They’re extremists who don’t care if their policies hurt people.