Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Art of Intransigence

Marc Ambinder lists five things that the House Republicans have managed to do with the shutdown standoff. Of them, I think that the fifth is the most important.

5. Ensuring their re-election.
They did this in such a way that "the potential and actual damage to the American economy is significant." But it gets them what they wanted - to be sent back to Washington. And, if it turns out that it does ensure their re-election, it did so by appealing to the sensibilities of the people that matter most - a majority of the active voters in their districts. And in the end, those are the people that those who disapprove of the way this has gone down need to be talking to.

Regardless of what one might think of the TEA Party and its politics, you have to grant them that they are organized, they are motivated and they're pretty much on the same page. That unity gives them quite a bit of power, even though they aren't a majority of the population. But while they're often portrayed as a group of wild-eyed fanatics who have hijacked the Republican Party, the fact is that many of the remaining GOP electorate has gone along with them - because during the primaries, they don't really care who is nominated, and during the general election, any Republican beats any Democrat (or anyone else from a different party for that matter). To the degree that Republicans are locked in a room with bomb-throwing lunatics (although it's not really accurate to portray them that way) they're the ones to turned the key. And they did this because they have their own perceived interests and power at stake, and "taking hostages," or simply throwing tradition and custom out the window is a rational, if somewhat extreme, way of protecting those interests. As the stereotypical Republican voter slides into the minority, this will become less and less a viable tactic, but they won't be the last people to decide that delaying the inevitable is better than facing it head-on.

The United States has never been as majoritarian as people like to make it out to be. The system was originally set up to offer some protections to certain minorities and while things have become a lot kludgeier in the past 200+ years, many of those protections are still in place - for those who know how to work the system. And right now, it's the Republicans, lead by their right wing, who know how to work the system. And they're going to do so to their benefit, not the nation's. Precisely because they're convinced that what is to their benefit is in the best interests of the nation as a whole. This is a common idea in the United States - rare are the groups who don't conflate their own narrow interests with expansive national ones.

Perhaps because of the disparate coalition that the Democrats' big tent philosophy has created, they're often in a situation in which it's often perceived as more virtuous to abandon the party than it is to stick with it when things aren't going your way. The Republicans have embarked upon the opposite strategy, and, more importantly, they've stuck with it long enough that it's paying off. Republican lawmakers know this. Calls from outsiders for "political courage" fall on deaf ears because most of them are little more than calls to be voted out of office in the next cycle. As long as the Republican base is more organized and unified, they're going to win more than one thinks they would, because they're going to put to best use the advantages that come from winning - such as living in highly gerrymandered districts. This makes their legislators relatively, if not completely, immune from national opinion. Congressional unpopularity, which is usually made up of calls to have other voters dump their legislators, simply won't be an issue. It's going to take dissatisfaction from within their districts, not from outside of it, to push them into changing their tune.

No comments: