Friday, October 30, 2015

Note To Republicans: Find A Way To Like Governement ... At Least A Little Bit

This week's passage in both houses of Congress of a two-year(!) bipartisan budget agreement with the White House failed to ignite the usual cheering for bipartisanship that usually erupts from the mainstream media at similar moments.  Perhaps that's because of an obvious problem:  there have been relatively few similar moments in the past seven years.  In fact, the only reason this particular moment came to fruition is largely the fact that it was negotiated in part by a lame-duck Speaker of the House who had no reason to appease the Tea Party lunatics in his asylum.

Of course, he was aided in one sense by these lunatics:  their weeks-long inability to agree on his successor, culminating in the briefly-floated possibility of a return by Nancy Pelosi to the Speaker's chair, destroyed what little credibility they had as a governing force for the nation.  Which raises once again for discussion the central dilemma of the modern Republican Party:  their appetite for power and their ability to satisfy it is not truly paired to a philosophy, or even a series of policies, that would allow it to govern.

You needed to look no further for evidence of that absence than this past week's Republican Presidential debate.  Not surprisingly, the subsequent media coverage of that event shown an uncanny grasp of superficialities.  Much was said, for example, of the "brilliant" exchange of ad hominem insults between the Florida Twins, Jeb! and Marco (Agua! Agua!) Rubio.  (And no points to yours truly for just now joining in the ad hominem fun.)  A great deal was also made of Ted Cruz's moment when he remembered the Spiro Agnew rule:  when all else fails, go after the media.

But relatively few, if any, commentators dwelt upon the near-appalling lack of anything from the ten warm bodies onstage that even resembled a coherent plan for, in Donald Trump's words, making America great again.  We got invocations of Saint Ronald, bumper-sticker nods to his agenda (balance the budget by cutting taxes, proven time and again not to work).  And that's it.  Not a single idea, old or new, to illustrate what they would actually do if given the job for which they're auditioning.

It ought therefore to surprise absolutely no one that an overwhelming majority of Republican voters still have no idea of whom to vote for.  In all honesty, why should they?  What idea have they been given of what would happen if they voted for any of these people?  But some of this uncertainty comes from the mindset of Republican voters, who have been systematically programmed for decades by the leaders of their party to hate, hate, HATE government in all forms (with the arguable exception of the military, which they use to access overseas resources for their contributors).  And, even though many of them benefit from various forms of government (as have Republican leaders), the voters lap it up and reflexively shape their entire thought processes around it.

In the current race, this is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that three candidates with absolutely no experience in political office--Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina--have spent months with a consistent hold in polls of between 50% and 55% of Republican voters.  And the only selling point that any one of the three of them have is that fact:  a complete lack of relevant experience for the most powerful job in the world.  Somehow, being a real estate developer, a surgeon, or a failed CEO has some relevance to the kinds of political trade-offs and hard choices that have to be made on behalf not of a development site, a patient, or a group of stockholders, but an entire country of diverse interests at the center of an increasingly interdependent world.

Except that it doesn't.  Trump, Carson and Fiorina have held jobs that allow them to focus on limited, specific sets of circumstances, one at a time.  A political leader can't do that; he or she is in a constant juggling act of reconciling the different needs of diverse constituencies.  This is true even at the level of local government.  And, within the framework of a federal system with divided powers, "taking charge" in a private-sector way simply can't happen.  Talking about it, as Trump loves to do, won't make it so; talk is about the only aspect of The Donald that's cheap.

That's why there's only one way for the Republican Party and its voters to become a truly potential governing force again:  learn to love the act of governing.  It's not that difficult.  Government, after all, can be small or restrained without being evil.  Personally, I think our history proves that it can be large and ambitious and be a tremendous force for good, which is why I'm proud to be a Democrat. But, if there's anything that Democrats and Republicans can and should agree upon, it is that some level of government is necessary.  Go back to the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, if you're so in love with that document.  Those words embody what the Framers hoped that government can and would accomplish.  Sorry, Grover Norquist, but there's nothing in there about bathtubs.

This means thinking about how to govern, and communicating the results of that process in a compelling, even memorable way.  But, above all, it requires a commitment to governing, to reconcile the interests of a diverse nation.  Including, and perhaps especially, those who disagree with you.  Personally, even though I think the current state of the Republican Party is good political news for Democrats, it's not good news for the nation as a whole.  Which is why I'm routing for the Republicans to take my advice.

Try governing.  It actually works.  And, when you do, you won't have to resign from office in order to get something done.

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