I haven’t blogged that much about the mess down in Washington. There’s a couple of reasons for that – one is that it’s a pretty fluid situation and I don’t want to blog every little hiccup. While it looked this morning as if a government shutdown is a done deal, now there’s talk that some “moderate” Republicans from the Frost Belt – like Pa. congressman Charlie Dent – are ready to vote for a budget that doesn’t delay or kill Obamacare. If that happens, though, the Tea Party caucus may try to dump House Speaker John Boehner. Wild stuff!
The other reason I don’t have much new to say is a powerful sense of…I told you so. Whatever comes to pass over the next two weeks -- I have a deep and abiding sense that it’s not going to be good – is pretty much the fruition of so much of what I have been writing here, especially since 2009.
The biggest thing that’s happened over the last generation has been government by talk radio. It actually starts with the so-called “big sort” – the geographic shuffling of like-minded folks, whether it’s San Francisco or white neighborhoods in Mississippi – as well as gerrymandering, which has taken advantage of the sort to create ”safe” congressional districts for incumbents in both parties. I just read today that 211 GOP-held seats are not competitive for the Democrats. Thus, those 211 reps have to worry about only one thing -- losing a Republican primary to a candidate who’s even more conservative.
And talk radio – by setting the extremist agenda – is to blame for that prospect. Just learn about cases like Georgia GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey, who said something mildly critical of Rush Limbaugh one day and had to call with a groveling apology the next, or former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, who became “former” after he told conservatives at a town hall meeting to stop watching Glenn Beck (he then lost the GOP primary by 42 points.)
Talk radio hosts routinely pillage any Republican who dares suggest the possibility of compromise with the Democrats or something even “crazier” – like the notion that man-made global warming might be a real thing – as a “RINO” (Republican in name only) or a weak Neville Chamberlain-ish Quisling who might want to watch his back in the next primary election. If you’ve never listened to right-wing talk radio, you’re lucky...but you should force yourself to listen for an hour or two, just so you’ll understand the madness that’s overtaken Washington.
The other problem is that the current stalemate is constructed in such a way that it’s very difficult to resolve. When there was more of a consensus about what the federal government was supposed to do, it was easier to find room to compromise. Take the issue of roads and bridges. One side would say we need an ambitious infrastructure program with a lot of public works jobs; the other side would say, ‘Yes, we need infrastructure, but let’s live within our means,” and then a deal gets funded, somewhere in the middle.
But the Tea Party has made everything binary – one party believes there’s a role to play for government to play, and one doesn’t. How do you compromise when it’s all or nothing? The other times in American history that come to mind when it was so winner-take-all were slavery, and then segregation/voting rights.
The good guys won in the end – but not without a great deal of pain.