Quote of the day: "What, you think they don't know what they're doing?" edition

>> Tuesday, October 01, 2013

If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.
New York, September 30th, 2013.

I think the whole Chait piece at the link is worth a read, actually; I just wasn't sure how to get into it without just recapitulating Digby's piece re: this at Hullabaloo, so I decided to go with the "Quote Of The Day" format.

I think one of the most telling things about the past week is that the Senate Republicans have been perfectly reasonable about the budget, the debt limit, and the plausibility of delaying or repealing the Affordable Care Act when any kind of bill doing so would go down in the Senate and would be vetoed by the President if it somehow passed (making an Obamacare repeal two impossible things before breakfast).  But the Senate Republicans, you know, face reelection in statewide elections: under our system of governance, they're actually accountable.  Ditto Presidents, and/or Presidential candidates: the Republican party may well be punished for a government shutdown.

But Representatives won't be.  The people who are orchestrating this catastrophe, by-and-large, are in the House Of Representatives (the major exception was Senator Ted Cruz's fauxlibuster last week, wherein the esteemed Senator from The Sovereign Republic Of Texas pretended he was Jimmy Stewart right before a scheduled vote was held as scheduled).  They come from heavily-gerrymandered congressional districts where they won't be facing any significant opposition unless they're met in a primary, and nobody from their own party is too likely to run against them when (1) they have significant teabagger support for heroically shutting down the government instead of submitting to tag-and-bagging by Obamacare death panel minions and (2) they have significant contributor support from people like the Koch Brothers for heroically shutting down the government instead of allowing the fascists and takers to bully the makers and creators by forcing them to give anything more to their weak, lazy, parasitic employees.  The members of the House who are shutting down the Federal Government this week are accountable to no one, or worse: they are likely to be rewarded for their dog-and-pony show this week.

They aren't petulant children who don't know what forces they threaten to unleash, nor are they idiots.

No, I think what's maybe harder to discern is whether they're so cynical and selfish they put their own political (and subsequent private consultant) careers over the good of their country, or whether they're so self-righteous they think their own ascendency and the good of the country are synonymous.  I suspect it's the latter, in which case there's something mildly terrifying in the way they're disconnected from reality to such an extent they think the people who voted against them in 2012 are just doing democracy wrong or something.  But even that, I don't think, is "idiocy" in the sense the term is often used today, to mean "stupid" or "moronic".  It's "senseless" in the sense that it's insensate to certain realities (like the suffering they cause, or that their home-district precinct primary majorities are only minorities in the grand scheme and have been firmly rejected several times now by everyone from voters in the general election to a majority of Supreme Court Justices), but they know what they're doing, they planned it this way, they weighed the costs and benefits and found this a productive course to take.

I think you have to take into account, too, that the Republicans behind this all seem to be from the "government should be so small you can drown it in a bathtub" school.  There is a certain stupidity in that, actually, in that this is an idea most often held by people who don't really know what government does, and/or who haven't thought through what it would fully mean for government to be virtually nonexistent.  (Do they really think there should be no police or courthouses, for instance?  Or if they think, as some libertarians do, that there ought to be courthouses for people to settle civil disputes in, how do they expect those courthouses to record and preserve judgements, who do they think will enforce those judgements, have they given any thought to how many people it takes to keep a courthouse running before you even have any lawyers and judges showing up in it?  For instance.)  But the point is that the idea of a governmental shutdown hardly strikes this sort as a bad thing, seeing as how shutting down government was basically one of their campaign planks when they stood for office.  Similarly, these folks don't have a really good grasp on how debt works in the modern age, or how national debt works as a distinct creature from personal debt or how the American national debt ceiling is different from the deficit; they believe in some kind of unworkable pay-as-you-go kind of thing that has no bearing on how government spending has ever worked, going back to when the Continental Congress couldn't pay any of its debts during the Revolution.  This, too, is a kind of stupidity, but it's a knowing stupidity.  Their premises may be cocked all to Hell, but they know what they're doing to the extent they know anything.

At any rate, it isn't childish in any conventional sense.  It's mature, sophisticated, premeditated high-stakes poker played with other people's money and a dim grasp of how probabilities work.  Or maybe it's more comparable to a well-thought-out plan to take Vegas by playing the slots machines instead of doing something more sensible like counting cards at the Blackjack tables.  (And, okay, trying to take Vegas at slots is a dumb idea.  But I guess the point is there are kinds of dumb.)

All of which I think my fellow travelers probably ought to keep in mind, though I'm not sure what we ought to do about it, since, as I already mentioned, the folks who are causing this aren't accountable to anyone.  The best we can hope for is that they've ruined their colleagues' chances at taking back the Senate or having the White House any time in the next four-to-eight years, but that's hardly retribution when all it would do is essentially maintain the current status quo.  I suppose one point is that we shouldn't be puzzling 'til our puzzlers are sore, as there's nothing puzzling about it: this is a calculus they worked out months ago, and it's going mostly as planned so far.  We can hope that standing our ground, which is what we need to do, doesn't cost us too much in the long run, I guess.


TimBo Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 11:03:00 PM EDT  

If this is the case, then what's the deal with all the liberal commentators (like at Slate & Salon)? How come they aren't talking about how the Williamsburg Accord is a highly successful strategy? Don't they do any research before calling Republicans a bunch of babies? Shouldn't they?

Not that you're responsible for liberal commentators.

Eric Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9:33:00 AM EDT  

I think there's a combination of wishful thinking and spin going on.

Two points that should be understood, too: (1) having a deliberate, thought-out strategy isn't the same as having a successful strategy and (2) "success" should be measured by the goals actually being sought.

I think the first of those speaks for itself. As for the second, I think it needs to be understood that the goal of House Republicans isn't necessarily to pass a budget or even to successfully defund the ACA. I suspect they'll consider goals achieved if they get reelected, if they get any concessions out of Democrats at all, if they can successfully shift blame for the shutdown to rivals (Republican or otherwise), and/or if they incidentally manage to reduce the size of a government they have existential issues with.

I'm not only not responsible for other liberal commentators, but this piece is implicitly a response to what I think is misleading rhetoric on their part. I read Salon and Slate daily: I think quite a lot of their commentators are basically wrong on this whole thing. (I'm also not sure how much research some of them do, but that may be another thing altogether.) There are certainly commentators on both those sites who are prone to calling the GOP babies at the drop of a hat; and quite often that's warranted, but not always. (For that matter, there are folks like Salon's David Sirota, who will heap contempt on anyone who doesn't share his smug, sanctimonious bigotries--Sirota basically comes across as a Limbaughian caricature of a liberal, made flesh. I'm not only not responsible for anything he might have written, I've stopped reading his posts unless by accident.)

John Healy Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 1:58:00 PM EDT  

The thing about gerrymandering in it's across the country mode is that the Republicans have no choice but to be douchey. They know that their current strategy is unworkable, but any sign of weakness on their parts will be perceived as blood on the water in their home districts.
The question is will those districts change enough in the next seven years to allow change at the state level, so the lines can be redrawn. When districts are fair, both sides nee to put up electable candidates. The way it is now both sides need to put up candidates who are only accountable to the extremes of their parties. Reasonable candidates become unelectable in the primaries.
The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again.
The other big question is will the current enviorment destroy the Republican party or the country itself?
I'm not optimistic.

Eric Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 2:51:00 PM EDT  

Good points, John. I wish they weren't good points, as you're also right that they lead to pessimism over our collective ability to pull out of the nosedive. But they're good points and it's a good question, I'm afraid.

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