PLEASE DON’T DOMINATE THE RAP, JACK / IF YOU’VE GOT NOTHING NEW TO SAY / IF YOU PLEASE, DON’T BACK UP THE TRACK / THIS TRAIN’S GOT TO RUN TODAY ~ THE GRATEFUL DEAD
A grave question must now be asked in the wake of a Republican meltdown in the House of Representatives that in the short term threatens the fiscal stability of the U.S. and world markets, as well as the ability of government to function, and in the longer term calls into question whether the Republican Party is still capable of governing, let alone whether its prospects for the 2016 presidential election have been further damaged: Have the Gang of 40 lurched from their patented brand of despicable politics into treason?
Why, yes they have.
The Gang of 40 is, of course, the cannibalistic Tea Party-inoculated congressfolk who, although they represent barely 3 percent of the population, have brought the Republican Party's House caucus to its knees because of a fanaticism not seen in national politics since the run up to the Civil War. In this context, the question of whether these men (and lone woman) are traitors is not knee-jerk liberal nattering or a pushback in support of a threadbare status quo. The definition of a traitor is someone who betrays their country, and there can be no doubt that the fevered labors of the Gang of 40, who are the spawn of years of conspiring to destroy the established order, have been traitorous.
What, you may ask, is the established order and why is it wrong, let alone traitorous, to try to overthrow a political system that is sodden with corruption and in the thrall of big money? Actually, that sounds like a pretty good idea, and one that is long overdue.
The reality is, in fact, really bad. This is because the Gang of 40 is on a mission to rebuild government in its own harshly hard-right image: Less inclusive, intolerant of the differences in a multi-cultural society, and hungry for armed conflict abroad. The gang is committed to an integration of church and state, so long as the church is white and Christian, and believes that women are inferior, gays are aberrant, immigrants are criminals, access to health care is a privilege and not a right, and are determined to rip to shreds a social safety net that for this writer and many millions of other people is the difference between sufficiency and penury.
Beyond all the parliamentary machinations that are dominating coverage, this gang seeks replace the status quo, as screwed up as it is, with a system that is just as sodden with corruption and in the thrall of big money but infinitely worse and deeply un-American when you examine the fine print.
Some conservative moderators, including Ross Douthat of The New York Times, suggest in trying to make sense of the inchoate that the new speaker be "an ambassador from the right wing to the establishment." This is an amazingly naïve idea that willfully ignores the true intent of the gang, and something you would except to topple out of a 1950s civics class time capsule, since this gang would bring Molotov cocktails and not tea and crumpets to any party.
BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE
As I noted the other day, if there has been a moment in contemporary American politics when its abjectly debauched state was revealed, this is it.
"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Whatever the number is," writes Andrew O'Hehir in Salon, "it's infinitely larger than the number of Republicans who want to pick up John Boehner's poisoned gavel."
No matter, because we shouldn't give a rat's ass about what happens next as the Republicans scramble to mitigate the damage wrought by the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy to replace Speaker Boehner because he suffered an outburst of honesty about the real reason for the Benghazi Select Committee witch hunt, speaking the truth being a blasphemy in the Republican temple.
It matters not if the Gang of 40 -- which ironically calls itself the Freedom Caucus -- backs Daniel Webster of Florida, who declared in sunnier times that "we would have the opportunity for turning this country around" if Republicans recaptured congressional majorities, which they did if you consider a flaming downward trajectory a positive direction. It matters not if Paul Ryan rides to the rescue. You'll recall Ryan's star turn as Mitt Romney's 2012 running mate, which was sullied by the inconvenient reality that his Reverse Robin Hood economic plan was a gift to the rich, but left only scraps for the poor. It matters not if David Brat, a freshman backbencher and Gang of 40 darling, gets his way and as he indelicately puts it, the gang's non-negotiable demands "are put on paper ahead of time" to be agreed to by anyone wanting to be the new speaker. Or they need not bother to apply for the job. Beyond stripping the post of speaker of much of its power, which in the abstract may not be a bad idea, these demands include a laundry list of draconian funding cuts in return for agreeing to the fiscal measures that keep the engine of government fueled and running.
(Little known fact: The preordained line of succession can and perhaps should be broken. A House speaker, who happens to be second in line to the presidency, need not be a sitting member of Congress, so why not draft Newt Gingrich, who was taken down because of the Clinton impeachment fiasco but after 15 years now seems like a voice of reason? Or somebody. Anybody. The gulf between moderates and the gang is so great that there even are whispers among a few moderates about joining with Democrats to elect a new speaker, a once unthinkable idea that is within the bounds of House rules.)
What matters is that the darkness has to end.
The Gang of 40's addiction to spite, hate, deceit and lie after lie after bloody lie, and embracing Twilight Zone crackpots like Louie Gohmert, who warned earlier this year about a possible Barack Obama-orchestrated military takeover of Texas, has resulted in cycle after cycle of brinksmanship. It also has bequeathed us Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, who despite having not one day of government experience between them and an astounding array of bad policy ideas, are the Republican presidential frontrunners. This is because they are saying what a disillusioned base -- betrayed by a party establishment adept only at rhetorical flourishes and empty promises -- wants to hear. The biggest betrayal of all, lest we forget, was the promise that Mitt Romney would ride a tsunami of conservative outrage and crush Obama in 2012, which looked like a sure bet if you viewed reality from the depths of the Fox News echo chamber.
Chaos is not a winning formula for the Republican Party to take back the White House. If the U.S. can't have several strong political parties as do many European countries, which won't happen because of how the deck is stacked, we need two capable of governing if only because the Democrats aren't appreciably less corrupt or addicted to big money. They merely look good by comparison.
The fallout from the dysfunction in the House will not have much of a direct effect on the Republican presidential scrum, although the dance of the Freedom Caucus zombies will be a distraction at a time when marginal candidates like (yes) Jeb Bush are desperate for face time.
As it is, none of the Republican presidential wannabes are capable of beating Hillary Clinton at this juncture because of daunting electoral math not likely to be altered given the Freedom Caucus's geographic and demographic isolation, much of it a result of gerrymandering, and the party's drift in general, and don't expect any seismic shifts -- or for that matter any appreciable shifts at all -- after the first Democratic debate on Tuesday night. How many disgusted Republicans will stay home on Election Day? And does anyone really believe Ted Cruz, who is the flavor of the moment, could be elected president?
It occurs to me that not even the Republican Party likes itself these days. The divide between the promise-breaking party establishment and the promise-making renegades is unbridgeable, and the condition of the Stuff Happens Party is so parlous that just getting through the primaries without suffering additional self-inflicted wounds seems unlikely. This is entirely a consequence of the party discarding conservatism and embracing radicalism in the service of short-term electoral gains rather than building for a more robust, long-term future.
Then there is the looming November 5 deadline for the debt ceiling to be raised lest the government default and risk an economic meltdown, but the gang says it will approve such a move only if deep cuts are made to social safety net standbys. Meanwhile, the continuing resolution that passed the House prior to McCarthy's implosion only funds the government through December 11, meaning that it will be the extremists who are waging a War on Christmas, not the usual heathen liberal suspects, as federal workers' paychecks are threatened by a shutdown.
And so the traitors march on, immune to the imprecations of the impotent Republican Party elite as pundits struggle to find new synonyms for chaos and the whole kit and kaboodle, government and all, is dragged further and further down.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click here for an index of previous Politix Updates.
IMAGE FROM DONKEYHOTEY/FLICKR. USED WITH PERMISSION.