The great Republican wars of 2013
Posted by carpetbagger
I’m old enough to remember how politics worked in the 70s and 80s, as opposed to how it doesn’t work now. I can barely remember who our representative was in the 70s. I think it was a man or a woman named Fawell — actually there was both a man (Harris) and his sister-in-law (Beverly). Other than the fact that they were conservative Republicans (it was DuPage County, Illinois, after all), I can’t remember what they looked like, sounded like, or where they stood on the issues. They were names on campaign signs every six years. And they didn’t even have to campaign because they were never challenged in primaries and Democrats didn’t stand a chance in that district.
I’m pretty sure that other than party leadership, most members of the House were fairly anonymous in those days. Think about it. There was no cable news and only three broadcast channels. The only way to get into the headlines was for really negative reasons. The only way to communicate to your constituents was to put out an old-school newsletter (typeset, printed, and snail mailed) or go back to your district and talk with them in person. That was pretty much it.
Today, everything has changed. Just as the Internet has given voice to nobodies everywhere — like yours truly — today’s politician can get his face, voice, and issues in front of constituents on a daily basis through email, texts, Twitter, and Facebook. They can send out electronic newsletters. They can make YouTube videos. Fringe groups of voters can set up Websites to push their issues and demonize those who don’t vote their way. Cable news eagerly interviews virtually anybody who has anything outlandish to say.
I guess that’s a good thing, but one thing’s for sure: the megaphone of old has turned into a cacophony.
While I’m sure this is helpful in building name recognition, educating voters on issues, and raising money and status, I’ll bet it’s way harder for the party leaders to maintain control of the party’s message than it was in Tip O’Neill’s or LBJ’s day. Herding cats is the image that comes to mind.
Which brings us to the sectarian hell scape that has become the Republican party. What they are experiencing recently is not a civil war. That would suggest something neat and tidy with only two sides. This is more like Baghdad or Kabul. This is a wild sectarian scramble for the very heart and soul of the party. If you’re a Democrat, all you can really do is make some popcorn and pull up a chair.
People vs. Politics
The biggest war right now is an outstanding cage match between wealthy pretty boy Senator Rand Paul and New Jersey tough guy Chris Christie. Paul wants to take all that Hurricane Sandy money and (cut spending? No, not really) spend it on defense. The American military budget… you know, the one that is larger than the military budgets of the next 13 nations COMBINED!
This is the classic “theory vs. practice” debate between a governor who must GOVERN and a millionaire Republican Senator from a state that only elects Republicans. Christie is the one guy in the Republican party who might appeal to moderates. He’s the popular fiscal conservative governor of a deeply blue state, for Pete’s sake. He has met with real live people who lost everything when Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey shores last fall. He has the “empathy bone,” a bone missing on far too many Republicans. Paul, on the other hand, is one of many GOP lawmakers who are driven by extreme ideology without ever have to curry favor from the people they are screwing. Hell, in Kentucky, Paul doesn’t even meet them on election day.
Many representatives are still bent on repealing Obamacare. With all the perks of modern technology, they can constantly bombard their base with evidence of how they are fighting the good fight… now send me a donation. Repeal is a dead issue, of course. It will never go anywhere. Even if the GOP wins the Senate, the President would never sign such a law. It’s a moot point. Now, obstinate Republicans are threatening to once again shut down the government in order to defund it.
Opposing them are saner voices like Tom Coburn and Richard Burr, who called the shutdown issue “the dumbst idea I’ve ever heard of.” (And he’s been in Congress since 1995!) Bob Corker called it a “silly effort.” Even Karl Rove said that Republicans “must resist a game of chicken with the president.” They know that shutting down the government would be a GOP head wound in the all-important mid-term elections next year. Tea Party stalwarts are threatening to “primary” any member of the party who does not sign on to the repeal effort. Stay tuned.
The GOP simply cannot get out of their own way on this one. Did they not get the memo that in July sweeps, the Spanish language network Univision became the number one watched network in this country? ¡Ay, caramba!
On one side, Karl Rove, Roger Ailes, Sean Hannity, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and the RNC have all come out for the passage of immigration reform. Last Friday, more than 100 Republican donors sent a letter to House Republicans, urging them to pass it. Meanwhile, Marco Rubio — marquee member of the immigration Gang of Eight — says he won’t even lobby party leaders to pass it.
But thanks to social media and technology, we can hear all those things that used to stay in their heads, or at least in smoke-filled backrooms. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert suggested al Qaeda terrorists were trying to cross the border, having been trained to “act like Hispanic.” Iowa Rep. Steve King claimed last week that for every one young undocumented immigrant who was a valedictorian, there were 100 who were drug mules with calves as big a cantaloupes. Sure, House leadership condemned the comments. Boehner called the comments “wrong.” Cantor said they were “inexcusable.” Rep. Trey Gowdy said they were “reprehensible.” But when Gowdy was asked how to keep guys like King from saying what they really thought, Gowdy responded honestly: “You can’t.”
You might as well try to stop a teenager from posting something offensive or embarrassing. It’s not gonna happen.
Similar skirmishes are going on over the Farm Bill, Benghazi, and a host of women’s issues. There’s even a battle in Wyoming, where Dick Cheney’s daughter LIz is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Enzi — and Liz is about as “Wyoming” as a Maryland crab cake.
Half the party seems to be rushing for the nearest microphone, blog, or Website to tell their constituents (and, in turn, the rest of the nation) about their latest crazy, nonsensical thought, while the other half of the party slams their heads on their desks, wishing they would just shut the hell up.
These days, it’s no longer Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; it’s more like Lord of the Flies. I would think these are debates worth having for the good of the future of the GOP, but only if the better angels of their nature win the day. Who woulda thunk that Chris Christie would epitomize those better angels?