Monday, July 18, 2011

The Great Republican Retreat of 2011

A good compromise, a good piece of legislation, is like a good sentence; or a good piece of music. Everybody can recognize it. They say, "Huh. It works. It makes sense."
The Republican congressional leadership, unable to keep a single promise of consequence, is bloodied and in retreat, and the imbroglio over the budget deficit is its Waterloo.

The retreat is no surprise because Mitch McConnell and John Boehner find themselves between a very big rock and a very hard place.

The rock is the reality that Republicans will be blamed if there is a debt default, while the hard place is the right wingers who have hijacked the GOP, demanding lower taxes and smaller government.

Compromising for the greater good, as well helping to insure long-term policy successes, was once a Republican virtue, but it has no place in an era in which ideological purity is demanded of GOP officeholders.

Representative Eric Cantor, who has replaced an exhausted Boehner at the negotiating table, has succeeded in making the House speaker seem like a pillar of probity, and President Obama has taken pains to praise him for "acting in good faith."

Cantor, meanwhile is being childish.

"[He] has shown he shouldn’t be at the table and Republicans agree he shouldn’t be at the table,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid late last week. “He has walked out on the meetings with the vice president of the United States."

* * * * *

Having committed time and again to protecting the rich while trying to rob the poor, Cantor has nothing to bring to the table except empty rhetoric for the benefit of the GOP's base, which has become a demographic nightmare with dire long-term electoral consequences for a party whose loudest voices are inchoate Tea Party babbling.

The Republican march to failure was inevitable because of two linked-at-the-hip factors:

* The party leadership's feigned affection for the Tea Party. While few Republican bigs took the Tea Party seriously, they saw it as a source of votes. What these bigs did not take into account is that they would become beholden to the Tea Party and its insurgent freshman congressfolk in unanticipated and unpleasant ways.

* When the leadership, all aglow over its empty Pledge for America, promised to cut $100 billion from the federal budget this year without raising taxes and repeal health-care reform.

The budget slash-and-burn was unrealistic because of the party's innumerable sacred cows, while the health-care initiative was dead on arrival because the people who embrace reform are not, of course, the Republicans' favorite targets -- illegal immigrants and layabouts whom they claim would rather collect unemployment insurance than work -- but rather middle class voters whose lives have been ravaged by the Bush Recession.

Among the ironies here is that the deficit is a product of Bush era profligacy, something that many voters seem to understand, while congressional Republicans have further tied their own hands by overwhelmingly supporting the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a piece of flapdoodle that states its signers will oppose hikes in most income tax rates and any reduction or elimination of deductions and credits unless matched by reducing tax rates.

Another irony is that the GOP leadership has allowed itself to be played by Obama and has no answer to his contention that the party has a "gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners."

This is because it is true.

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