Archive for October, 2016

Mitch McConnell is not a dumb man. His slow southern drawl is seen as slow by the northern elite. That is a mistake. McConnell has spent over 30 years in the Senate, more if you count his time as a staffer and intern. Mitch McConnell is smart, but as his glasses suggest, short sighted. His announcement that there would be no Senate action on an Obama replacement for Justice Scalia is just the latest chapter in his power politics. That’s not power politics as in playing hardball. It is power politics as everything being about staying in power and not losing the grip on the reigns. To be fair this is not totally McConnell’s doing, but as the Senate Majority Leader he is the main tool and voice for its implementation.

McConnell and the GOP know all too well is that the last time a democratic president rescued the economy and rebuilt the work force after a republican induced economic meltdown on this scale, the GOP lost the Senate for 44 of the next 48 years and the House for 58 of the next 62 years. Think about that – the GOP essentially went into exile as the congressional minority party for generations. The prospect of repeating this experience led to some harsh decisions.

McConnell and his crew saw the scope of the Great Recession and decided if the GOP was not to be pushed into irrelevance for another few generations, they had to prevent a quick economic recovery that Obama would get credit for. This expanded to keep Obama from accomplishing anything of substance that would make him look good. As McConnell succinctly put it, “Our top political priority should be to deny President Obama a second term.” Their priority was not creating jobs for America, not stimulating the economy, not governing the country, but getting and retaining power. The priority was keeping the economy stumbling through four years so the GOP could prevent them being driven into the wilderness again. It was a cool calculated strategy to keep the GOP from becoming irrelevant again in the Congress, even if it meant misery and suffering for the U.S. populace, slowing the recovery, increasing poverty, weakening the U.S. economy. As former Ohio Senator George Voinovich acknowledged after retiring, “If he was for it, we had to be against it.”

And so they blocked jobs bills, refused to participate in the stimulus bill, and routinely and continually announced the Presidential budgets dead on arrival. Even the most simple bipartisan issues, such as a veterans job bill, were killed rather than let the administration get a moment in the spotlight. It explains also their irrational opposition to Obama Care. If this opposition was based on conten,t the GOP would have proposed an alternative or improvements in the eight years after instead of the 60 times they have sought to repeal it. However alternatives are no longer allowed. Alternatives allow progress, and President’s get credit for progress, not Congress.

Obama care is a fair example. Obamacare is essentially the Heritage Foundation’s response to Hillary’s proposed health care reform. That was why GOP Governor Mitt Romney could adopt it in Massachusetts. But the GOP plan to deny Obama any progress, even bipartisan progress during his term meant it had to be vilified, not fixed, not amended, not improved. State GOP governors’ actually went so far as to prevent the Medicaid expansion, turning down free money, resulting in 17,000 preventable deaths. http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2014/01/30/opting-out-of-medicaid-expansion-the-health-and-financial-impacts. Let that soak in, 17,000 people died so the GOP could prevent Obama from having credit for political accomplishments, so the GOP could hang on to power.

This has become the “do-nothing” Congress because alternatives are not allowed. Alternatives are not allowed, because if Obama accepts an alternative that leaves an Obama accomplishment on the table. Obama had also early on proved adept at countering objections from the GOP by accepting their alternatives and moving to the center. As Obama repeatedly took GOP positions and went forward with them, the GOP realized they had to have no real counter positions. – The number of times they backed away from their own proposals is shocking. For every step Obama took to the center, the GOP had to take two steps back. Yet the FOX news machine and the GOP echo chamber have managed to portray this as Obama failing to negotiate. Not enough people pay attention to put this lie to rest.

So McConnell and company had an iron clad plan, backed with rigid discipline and harsh punishment for those who strayed. When the plan failed to limit Obama to one term they doubled down, filibustering and blocking nearly all Senate action. In 2014 the frustration this grid lock caused helped them get Congressional control.

So fearful of being driven into the wilderness for decades, McConnell led his party to stymie and vote against healing the economy, against jobs, against the people and against the country. He thought it would be for four years. Perhaps then they could even ride in and do the obvious things that they had been stymieing and rejecting and get credit for resuscitating the economy. Perhaps they would be driving the democrats into the wilderness. What a temptation. But with Obama’s reelection in 2012 they now had to carry this forward for 8 years. And the price for prolonging this strategy is becoming clear.

The Check Comes Due

So what was supposed to be four years of intentional non-governance expanded into eight. The economic recovery was hobbled and slowed down. People’s suffering was prolonged. All in hopes the public would blame Obama and the democrats for their suffering and see the GOP as a solution. But as the strategy has dragged out over 8 years the “do nothing” nature of the GOP strategy created a large surge of anti-government sentiment – all government. When it was coupled with GOP anti-government messaging it began to backfire.  The problem  for the GOP was that Congressional disapproval ratings have bounced from 75 to 85% over 2015 and 2016. And GOP Congressional disapproval ratings have gone from 30% in 2002 to as high as 83%. And now with the election pending Obama’s favorability ratings are as high as 58%. http://pollingreport.com/

So eight years of intentionally dysfunctional government has now led millions of voters to reach the conclusion that the system is broken; both parties are inept and corrupt. There is a large population of people who have come of voting age knowing nothing but this dysfunctional result. Even those old enough to have lived through a better time are jaded and fed up and despair of the possibility of real governance. With this “a pox on both your houses” attitude so abundant, is it any surprise that two candidates from outside the parties drew tens of millions of votes? Bernie and Trump are both a product of McConnell’s intentionally dysfunctional government. The fact that Obama was in office and managing to lead the country to a strong, if slow, economic recovery helped Hillary edge out Bernie. There was some administration record of accomplishment, however meager, and a strong record of attempted solutions blocked by GOP intransigence.

But the GOP has no such record of accomplishment in the last eight years. They have 8 years of anti-Obama rhetoric and dog whistle propaganda. And now they have a presidential candidate who chides the party he seeks to lead as in the pocket of moneyed interests, as corrupt, inept and responsible for job losses, globalization, etc., who at the same time rides their messages of birtherism, dog whistle racism, anti-immigrant bluster, and anti-government messaging into representing the party.

McConnell’s intentionally dysfunctional governance strategy has created the GOP Frankenstein monster, Trump. And Trump now threatens the very existence of the GOP. Trump is garnering about 40% in the polls. These people are imbued with his anti-GOP rhetoric, as much as the anti-government rhetoric. As we watched, Trump’s scorched earth primary techniques destroyed the political futures of Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Fiorini, Rubio, – seemingly a whole next generation of potential leaders. The masses behind Trump loath the GOP leadership and the party almost as much as they loathe Hillary. The future existence of the GOP is being talked about as very much in doubt

Conclusion

So to seek preventing a generation or two of irrelevance in Congress, McConnell and the GOP engaged a strategy that may very well destroy their party. It looks to very well have cost them the Senate this election and a significant number of House seats. And with a Democratic Senate will come several Supreme Court appointments (perhaps even a Justice Obama), and a shot at progressive agency heads (Elizabeth Warren anyone?). Will the House continue or adopt the McConnell strategy and seek to push intentional dysfunctionalism another four or eight years?

It is all rather reminiscent on how short sighted U.S. anti-Soviet foreign policy led to inflaming and arming the Mujahedin in Afghanistan only to create Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and ISIS. Now we have Trump, the tea party, and the none but Trump folks. We will have to wait a while for history to tell us whether the GOP survives the Trump candidacy and aftermath. If they recover, perhaps it will be sooner than the generation or two they would have lost by actually governing for the benefit of the American people and the economy. If so, McConnell was right. If not . . .

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