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These Republican Whigs & Know-Nothings

FreeVector-President-Washington

Washington was elected twice as an independent, but he favored a strong central government, which became the Federalists’ position. But some people are still fighting that notion today. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison secretly introduced the notion of state nullification to conventions in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Is the Republican Party disintegrating before our eyes? I think so, although it’s hard to make any sense of what’s currently going on in politics and no one can predict the future. But suppose it is; would that explain why we have total gridlock in Washington, a Congress with an approval rating of 9% and this series of self-inflicted financial crises over the “fiscal cliff,” the sequester and threats about not raising the debt ceiling?

Pundits don’t seem to know; after all, no one alive has seen a political party dissolve. We don’t know what the telltale signs are anymore – although parties do come and go, as the Whigs and Know-Nothings can attest.

History seems to show that a party goes belly-up when the nation rejects its policies, but its leaders aren’t capable of change. There just stops being a reason it exists anymore, so its members walk away and join other groupings. What are the signs this is happening to the GOP?

Take CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference just ended in suburban Maryland. Thousands of reporters were accredited to cover it from all over the world as if it were an important event, but it mostly turned out to be a circus. There was Mitch McConnell, who’s 71, in front of a roomful of activists who are 22, denouncing the Democrats’ frontrunners in 2016 as a rerun of the “Golden Girls” – despite those frontrunners’ being younger than he is. Hillary Clinton is 65 and Joe Biden is 69. Yuck-a-day!

It was slightly entertaining to watch McConnell deliver this line; he has no lips and apparently no teeth, but he almost broke out in a smile at his own utter hilarity.

The gals were fabulous - a concept McConnell knows nothing about.

These gals were fabulous – a concept McConnell knows nothing about.

Donald Trump gave a talk, which ranged from rambling to incoherent; his big criticism of Mitt Romney (last year’s failed Republican, in case you’ve forgotten already) was that he didn’t brag enough about how rich he is. American admire success, Trump said – which must be true because it’s the only reason anyone’s ever paid attention to him. The news was that nobody showed up to hear Trump deliver this pronouncement. I think Toupée Man has finally worn out his welcome.

DONALDTRUMPSAUDIENCE

When no one shows up for Trump, the end is near.

A few bored reporters generated some discussion of Sen. Rob Portman’s switch in favor of Gay marriage, two years after his son told him he’s Gay, but the only people excited about that were old people, interviewed here and there by obscure bloggers with videocams; the College Republicans who dominated the event mostly said Portman was right – if you asked them, because they weren’t talking about Rob Portman.

The weekend winner was Rand Paul, a nominal Republican who’s really a Libertarian. That party is likely to scoop up some Republicans if the collapse happens. Paul won the CPAC straw poll for President in 2016. He won’t win anything else, but he did win that.

A forum on broadening the party’s demographic base devolved into a White Power diatribe, with the featured speaker, K. Carl Smith of the Frederick Douglass Republicans, having to listen to a Tea Party activist who claimed that Whites have been “systematically disenfranched” by the U.S. government and that slaves ought to have thanked their masters for giving them food and shelter.

Not a good sign when you’re trying to broaden your base. Not a good sign a-tall!

The Tea Party in some version may try to organize itself as a post-Republican party, though after the spectacle of Dick Armey showing up with armed guards to clean out his desk at FreedomWorks (and pocket an $8 million settlement), it’s hard for me to see them as serious. Mother Jones magazine reported that FW paid radio talkers Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to extol the group on the air every week, which Armey opposed as not cost-effective and insulting to activists. The main beneficiary, Armey said, was FW’s president Matt Kibbe, who used staff members to write a book he profited from.

When political hustlers are in charge of the “grass roots,” there is no there there. So what’s to become of John Boehner?

Has there ever been a Speaker of the House like this guy? He reminds me of the Wizard of Oz after Toto’s pulled back the curtain. Boehner just keeps fiddling his dials and pumping the smoke machine as if nothing has happened amiss. He announced this weekend that mere election results aren’t going to change his policies; why would losing have anything to do with it?

John Boehner's role model.

John Boehner’s role model.

Someone smart pointed out recently that when the Democrats were in the doldrums back in the 1980s, losing the White House to Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, it took them three elections to right the ship – and then they turned to that “New Democrat” Bill Clinton, a Southern governor who “ended welfare as we know it.” If the party had gotten too liberal, which was the popular if mistaken diagnosis, Clinton arrived to clean things up. (And he did carry a Southern state or two.) Today, of course, the Republicans have only lost two in a row to Barack Obama (or three of the last four popular votes, if you count George W. Bush in 2000), and it may be that Republicans still have another loss to come before they change, if they do. If they make it that long. I’m not sure they will.

They have no obvious talent waiting in the on-deck circle, while it was clear back in 1988 that Bill Clinton was a comer. The few Republicans being talked about in 2016 all seem to have huge liabilities. Gov. Bobby Jindal is universally praised as intelligent, but his draconian policies in back-swamp Louisiana keep running afoul of the courts, and while he made a brief splash for telling Republicans they’ve got to stop being “the stupid party,” he didn’t propose anything smarter for national policies. He didn’t say global warming is real, let’s support marriage equality or open up a path to citizenship for immigrants, so it’s clear he either doesn’t have convictions or doesn’t have the courage of them.

Jeb Bush, the “smart one” of Barbara’s boys, is running around hemming and hawing about immigration – he’s for the pathway, he’s not for the pathway, “you have to understand we wrote that book (that just came out) last year” when we thought Romney would win – and saying he loves his brother W., he didn’t do anything wrong and Jeb is proud of him. Try selling that to voters!

lehmanbros

It’s true that Jeb can hardly say, “That son of a bitch, he screwed me for life,” but if he doesn’t say it, he’s screwed anyway. Bye, Jebber, you should never have let W. outrun you in 2000.

Marco Rubio, Jeb’s protegé, doesn’t know how to be the Republicans’ Great Hispanic Hope. If he endorses the pathway, he loses the nomination; if he doesn’t endorse it, he loses the election. (Besides, he ain’t that goodlooking.) And did you see him the other day at CPAC? No, he said, we don’t need new ideas, we still have a great idea – “It’s called America.”

That and eight bits might get you coffee. Or not.

As for Chris Christie, the only Republican popular with Democrats (and that won’t last), he wasn’t invited to CPAC. He hugged President Obama after Hurricane Sandy and that supposedly cost the Mittster the election.

So they invited the Mittster instead. No one knows why; CPAC was one collection of losers after another.

The moral of the story: when journalists outnumber activists, CPAC has peaked. (Most of the college kids were really just looking to get laid anyway.)

Maybe there will be a Republican who surprises us, a backbencher in Congress most likely; someone who finally gives up on Boehner, McConnell, sequesters and cliffs and government shutdowns, and strikes out on his or her own course. But if that were going to happen, I would think the gun safety debate would be the place for it to start. Polls show 91% of Americans favor universal background checks on gun purchases, but the only Republican senator who favors running all names through the computer is Mark Kirk of Illinois, who’s recovering from a major stroke. (He had to learn to walk again, and has made a good recovery.)

Every other Republican in Congress is plowing ahead as if nothing has changed. They’ll continue to obstruct, won’t pass any legislation and their big worry is that they’ll get “primaried” by a more conservative candidate – which led Lindsey Graham, better known as Senator Huckleberry, to announce he’s the proud owner of his very own assault weapon.

Lady Liberty is showing her tits again.

Lady Liberty is showing her tits again.

The jokes just write themselves.

As I said, I don’t own a crystal ball. They don’t work even if you own one. But we do know what causes a political party to crash. They insist on policies that are unpopular. They lack a strong leader. (Reince Priebus, anyone?) They prove incapable of altering their strategy, tactics or campaign techniques. They lose favor with young voters and are opponents of change, which happens whether they like it or not; see Gay marriage. They end up fighting among themselves while their platform loses all coherence.

Maybe Chris Christie can clean up this mess; but his temperament is volatile and his policies are immoderate – destroy the unions, snuggle up to Wall Street; New Jersey has a lot of financiers in those New York suburbs. He should coast to re-election this year but I’m not convinced he has national staying power. If he’s the nominee, which would take major hocus-pocus, and Hillary Clinton runs in ’16, I think Dems would keep the White House. Maybe even Biden could keep it, if he takes off his shirt and washes his Firebird in the front yard.

(The Onion, and don't think Biden hasn't exploited this image for all it's worth)

(The Onion, and don’t think Biden hasn’t exploited this for all it’s worth)

That would be three straight losses for the Republicans. Then we’ll see if some young, attractive, pro-Gay moderate can inject new life in the party, or it just burns out like the Know-Nothings.

President Obama has often compared himself to Ronald Reagan, odious as that is to me. Reagan was so successful he changed the trajectory of politics for a generation, and succeeded in seeing his vice-president replace him. (That hasn’t happened since.) The problem for Republicans is that Reagan was such a transformative figure who made conservatism acceptable, that his party today doesn’t know how to extend and broaden what he began. They’re reduced simply to invoking him, paying homage to the great man, claiming him for what they’re doing 30 years later. But he’s been dead quite some time now, and a huge chunk of voters doesn’t remember him. His trickle-down economics didn’t work, even his budget director admits cutting taxes doesn’t raise revenue or grow the economy, and these sad sacks, who lack his charisma and polished charm, are stuck doing wash/rinse/repeat. He went right, so they go further right, all the way to Crazyland, but Americans don’t want that; we like Social Security, we like Medicare and Medicaid, we don’t want people starving in the streets.

Libertarianism is a dead end; a modern society requires a modern government, with food inspectors and air traffic controllers, scientific research and development; you can’t turn back the clock. We’re here, we’re queer – they’re used to it!

The Tea Party may gasp on, but ask Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) how they like being in the Senate. As for the gun freaks after Sandy Hook, it’s plain we don’t want to live that way; it doesn’t make us safer. Obama may or may not succeed in cutting the budget when we ought to be raising it – who would he negotiate with for this “grand bargain”? – but his best bet is just putting Air Force One on auto-pilot until 2014. If Ashley Judd knocks off Mitch McConnell, the Party of No will be nowhere.++

party-of-no

Republican Meltdown

boehner-cries

We seem to be witnessing the implosion of the Republican Party. It just gets curiouser and curiouser.

On Friday House Speaker John Boehner first scheduled, then withdrew a vote on his “Plan B” as a step toward resolving the so-called fiscal cliff crisis, in which all the tax cuts of George W. Bush are set to expire and $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.

Boehner didn’t have the votes for Plan B. He couldn’t get his own party to go along with him.

Plan B would have extended Bush’s tax cuts for 99.8% of Americans – everyone who makes less than a million dollars. (And even millionaires would have enjoyed continued lower rates on their first $999,999.) But House Republicans wouldn’t do it. They want no tax increases at all.

They don’t care that polls show the American people overwhelmingly favor increasing taxes on the rich.

These are the same “lawmakers” (put that in quotes because they’re not making any laws at all these days) who moan and groan about the budget deficit and the national debt, which they’re sure will “turn us into Greece” any day now, causing hyperinflation, high interest rates and mass unemployment. Indeed, they’ve been predicting this since 2008, yet interest rates remain so low my bank is now begging me to refinance my mortgage so it can profit on all the money it “saves” me.

Inflation-indexed Treasury bills carry a negative interest rate. If you’ve got ten grand to park, it will cost you money to give it to the U.S. government. We’ve never seen such a thing. Bonds are supposed to pay you, not the other way around!

The deficit hawks keep predicting the end of the world. The Mayan calendar comes and goes, the world keeps spinning, but the GOP/Tea Party is convinced we must cut spending – not for the sacred military, mind you, but for “luxuries” like unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and disabled veterans.

If it doesn’t help millionaires, Republicans aren’t interested.

This is all very odd. And though this situation is incredibly complex, certain basic facts stand out.

Under ordinary rules of politics, politicians favor what’s popular with the public. But these Republicans don’t. People don’t want Medicare cut; they like Medicare and they paid into it. Congressional Republicans want to cut Medicare anyway.

A recent poll by CNN/ORC found that a majority of Americans say the Republicans are “too extreme.” That should cause them to moderate their positions, but so far it hasn’t.

If no deal is made and we go off the “fiscal cliff,” government spending will gradually drop so drastically that by spring, we’ll head back into a recession. And people will blame the Republicans if that happens, according to a Pew Research poll.

House Republicans are unmoved. They won’t raise taxes no matter what. They’re willing to let their Speaker twist in the wind on Capitol Hill rather than do a simple deal to keep the whole party from looking like idiots.

Grover Norquist’s infamous no-tax pledge has been shredded so badly that this week he declared Boehner’s tax increase on millionaires wasn’t a tax increase at all. He’s coming very close to political irrelevance, after dominating the party for 20 years.

Dick Armey took a $7 million payout from FreedomWorks, a phony Tea Party organization financed by the Koch Brothers, after the election, demanding that they remove all references to him immediately on his departure. This week, FreedomWorks declared “Two Cheers for Plan B” on Thursday, then Friday morning said, “That doesn’t mean to vote for it.”

The National Rifle Association held a “news conference” (a speech, actually, no questions allowed) Friday in the wake of the mass murder of 6-year-olds in Newtown. Wayne LaPierre’s speech was almost universally condemned; even Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was appalled.

 

The Post is Rupert Murdoch's conservative paper; the Daily News is sort of moderate.

The Post is Rupert Murdoch’s conservative paper; the Daily News is sort of moderate.

But so far Republicans are “sticking to their guns,” in the face of polls showing Americans want sensible gun safety laws. According to the Daily News, Pew found that “65 percent said that allowing assault weapons ownership makes the country more dangerous, while just 21 percent say they make the country more safe.”

Just hours ago, a candlelight vigil was held at Lafayette Park in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP-Getty)

Just hours ago, a candlelight vigil was held at Lafayette Park in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP-Getty)

John Boehner has tried to get a deal with President Obama, but he doesn’t have enough support in the House. How long can he remain Speaker this way? Saint Reagan couldn’t corral these people; he raised taxes 11 times.

If compromise is now a dirty word to Tea Party Republicans, the government grinds to a halt. Whatever the House might pass, the Senate will reject, and we’re left with nothing.

When has a political party ever induced a recession, thinking this is what people want? It’s never happened!

So what’s really going on here?

First, Saint Reagan is dead. The Republican Party hasn’t had an idea since he left office, so they keep running on what they say he stood for, as distorted by lesser lights since then like Newt “Moon Colony” Gingrich, Norquist, conservative think thanks, neo-con warmongers at the National Review, Rush Limbaugh and Fox. When a new idea does surface – the universal health insurance mandate, part of Romneycare and Obamacare, originated at the Heritage Foundation – other conservatives beat it to a pulp. Eventually no idea can survive. Republicans become more and more right-wing, with no effective brakes to keep them from plunging off the cliff.

Apparently they haven’t lost enough elections yet; that’s what causes party realists to slam the brakes. Democrats had to lose the White House three times before they found Bill Clinton, a Southerner and “new Democrat.”

Second, in the absence of a coherent ideology, the only thing that matters to most politicians is simply getting re-elected. They don’t really believe anything (which is a Tea Party criticism too). All that interests them is power. If a new ideology came along and seemed to offer a more popular outcome, they’d switch in a heartbeat; “forget what I said yesterday, here’s what I say now.” If Grover Norquist is out, “I didn’t really mean it when I signed that pledge.” If Grover Norquist comes back in, “I’ve been with Grover from day one.”

Congress is like “Survivor.” They just wanna be on TV.

The 2012 election thinned the ranks of House Republicans, but they retained the majority due to gerrymandering in the districts, where Republicans controlled the map-drawing after the 2010 census – AND the 2010 midterm elections. This year Democratic House candidates actually received a collective majority of the votes, but won only about 45% of the seats, thanks to gerrymandering. (Maybe someday, after the gridlock, Americans will finally decide gerrymandering harms the country. Maybe someday pigs will fly.) Indiana’s Congressional delegation flipped from 7-2 Democrat to 7-2 Republican in two short years.

Nate Silver of The New York Times suggests there is no way to put together a winning coalition in the incoming House. If so, we’ll have gridlock for the next two years.

Say that Mr. Boehner cannot count on the support of 34 of his Republicans when it comes to passing major fiscal policy legislation. That means he would need to identify 18 Democrats who would vote along with the Republicans who remained with him.

Here’s the problem: it might be hard to round up those 18 Democrats.

The reason is that most of the Democrats who remain in the House are quite liberal.

Here’s the really important thing: whatever political manipulations have occurred (and yes, they happen every day), the American people voted for divided government. A fascinating new CNN/ORC poll, little publicized so far, shows that despite all the bad press and lopsided polls listed above, people still want Republicans to control the House, 51%-43%. That poll was taken earlier this week!

People voted for gridlock and they still support it. Therefore, paradoxically, what House Republicans did this week was simply giving them exactly what they asked for – in general, not on specific issues. Republicans are losing on actual issues, but as a rule of thumb they’re doing great!

Americans don’t know what they want. And if we don’t know, how can Washington?

Obama and the Democrats made a huge mistake, losing the 2010 midterms. This is entirely the fault of the President, David Axelrod and David Plouffe. A census year is the most important midterm of the decade, because it determines who controls the statehouses, and they control the maps, which naturally favored the GOP.

We are at last ungovernable. Obama’s going to have to see what he can do by executive order, because nothing will pass the 113th Congress. Fiscal cliff? Debt ceiling? Recession? The Middle East? Toss a coin.

Meanwhile I’ll be curious whether anyone can lead the imploded Republican Party, and what life will be like if no one can.++

what-me-worry2

Gun Control after the Sandy Hook School Mass Shooting

(Tom Toles/Washington Post)

(Tom Toles/Washington Post)

I find that I am not comforted, after the murder of 20 children and 7 adults this morning in Connecticut, by the many prayers and expressions of grief posted by Church people on Facebook, any more than I am soothed by the blather of psychiatrists paid to spout off on TV about it.

I mean, any and all expressions of sorrow by people of goodwill are welcome, and every attempt to help is a good thing. I’m just saying I’m not comforted by them, because my primary emotion isn’t sadness, it’s anger.

After Columbine, I felt sadness. Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords in Tucson, the Sikh temple in Michigan, the mall shooting in Portland, they all broke my heart.

But this one makes me furious. Children in kindergarten?

I wrote on Facebook, “Enough with these mass shootings. Gun control now!

A few minutes later I e-mailed President Obama, then posted a link so others could do the same. You can too, right here.

I contacted one of my Senators; the other one’s a lame duck, so I didn’t bother with him. I can’t get in touch with my Congressman until after the new session, because his website is set up to take people only from the ZIP Codes in his current (2010) district, not his new one; we got redistricted. They’re both big 2nd Amendment types anyway, but they’re exactly the ones who need to hear the nation’s disgust.

As the day wore my Facebook news feed filled up with prayers, pictures of candles, the sayings of wise people, statements of bishops, “how to talk to children after a tragedy” and every other Hallmark card we’ve come to expect. Somehow the constant use of the term “tragedy” to describe what happened drove me a little bit nuts. I felt like shouting, “It isn’t a tragedy, it’s a crime!”

Which brings me to the National Rifle Association. I heard from one of their members, who commented, “I was raised with guns, and I vote.”

I promptly told her off and unfriended her.

As far as I’m concerned the NRA might as well be a terrorist organization. And I’m sick of politicians of both parties kowtowing to terrorists.

The members of the NRA believe in moderate proposals for gun control, but the leaders of the organization take their money and plow it into opposing every tiny effort to restrict access to guns by people who shouldn’t have them.

The NRA has become a front for the most vile, right-wing, Republican Tea Party fanatics in the nation.

But there are more of us than there are of them. The difference is they are ORGANIZED – and organized interests with money trump the common good every time.

We don’t have to put up with this. If politicians are worried that the NRA will come after them, we need to make them worry about us even more.

Meanwhile, to all my Christian friends, with all their prayers and candles and Hallmark cards, I answer this: Our God is a God of justice as well as mercy.

We ought to know that, considering it’s Advent; we’re reading Isaiah these days.

Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people,
and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them;
the mountains quaked,
and their corpses were like refuse in the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 5:25-26

Or maybe you remember this from St. Paul:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 12:19 (NIV)

(Or maybe you prefer this translation.)

Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (KJV)

“Vengeance is mine” also means it’s not yours or mine. Now is not the time for anyone to get violent in response to violence.

But the 535 members of Congress, and the President of the United States, have everything to answer for.

Obama went a little further this afternoon in his public expression of grief than he’s done the last four years after all the other mass shootings; he made a reference to “policy.”

My view is that we must repeal and replace the 2nd Amendment. I support hunting, which is a way of life in rural areas; people feed their families by being good with a rifle or a longbow.

They do not feed their families with handguns. I say ban them all!

Sure, I know how hard repealing and replacing the 2nd Amendment will be, but we owe it to our children – specifically those 20 little kids in Newtown, Connecticut, killed today because some guy who shouldn’t have had guns had three semi-automatics, and loaded his car up with bullets, drove to their school and shot them. His own mother, too, and several other adults. But what makes me furious is that he killed 20 kids in kindergarten, bang bang bang.

I say this to every priest in my church and every Hallmark-sending friend on Facebook: I am not going to pray for his soul.

Instead I say this: May God damn him to hell forever.

That’s what hell’s for; our God is a God of justice as well as mercy. Learn this, people.++

2nd Amendment Twisted