Was it John Boehner’s Intent to Sabotage the #Teaparty?

John Boehner

John Boehner (Photo credit: Keith Allison)

There’s a fascinating, very sour interview on Salon.com with Adam Brandon, a leader of Freedom Works. That organization, somewhat defanged in the wake of an acrimonious split with its former leader, the former Texas Congressman Dick Armey, was nevertheless instrumental in forging right-wing discontent with Obamacare into pockets of astroturf activism around the country. More recently Freedom Works played a role in goading Republicans into following the Tea Party line over the shutdown and debt ceiling debacles. Brandon has ideas about the shutdown and House Speaker John Boehner’s motives during it that are worth considering,

I’m not sure if he’s going to be running for Speaker again. I wonder if that’s part of all of this as well. Why did – I mean the way it was crafted…You needed Democrats to pass this. And what I don’t understand is, if the plan all along was to put just basically a pretty clean CR out there and pass it with Democratic support, Democratic members, why even do it? Why not do this a month ago? Or were they actually trying to embarrass some people, or trying to cause this fight? I mean who knows. I don’t know why these things – if this was the plan all along, he should have started this at the very beginning, and just, “Hey, listen, we’re just going to pass this with Democratic votes.”

All along, observers were wondering what Boehner was up to. He looked weak, terrified of a small group of rabid right-wingers who were insisting on an all-or-nothing fight against Obamacare, which Boehner, being an old hand in DC, had to have known was a big fat turkey that was never going to fly. He would not be Speaker without the rabid right, but he would never be able to accomplish anything worthy of a legacy with them. The Tea Party coalition is the entire reason the Republicans have become the Party of No: No major legislation, no enabling of Obama, no compromise ever. Not much ammo there to stake a Speakership on.

Brandon’s paranoid theory actually makes a kind of sense, then. What if Boehner, realizing his legacy was doomed because of this awful hand he was dealt, decided, having nothing personally to lose, to take revenge on his tormentors on the right by giving them enough rope to hang  themselves? What if he was thinking, if they’re going to tear me down, I’m taking them down with me?

Perhaps this is giving Boehner too much credit. But even if this were his intention, and even if it shows him to be more of a master Machiavellian than most had assumed, it doesn’t change the fact that the shutdown caused massive pain, to government employees, to families, to women with infants and children, to cancer patients, to people with disabilities, veterans, to local and national economies. He can’t be forgiven for that. But it would at least make his actions comprehensible. At least we would know, that cruel and heartless though he may be, he wasn’t motivated by sheer insanity.

Gary Wills: GOP Tactics Echo Antebellum South’s Secessionism

Gary Wills has a very enlightening new piece in the New York Review of Books about the debt-ceiling/shutdown crisis manufactured by the Tea Party wing of the GOP. I can’t add anything to it, Please just go and read it. It’s an opinion of the American present deeply informed by the American past.

Here’s a taste:

Republican leaders in Congress are too cowardly to say that the voting restrictions being enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures are racially motivated. They accept the blatant lie that they are aimed only at non-existent “fraud.” They will not crack the open code by which their partners claim to object to Obama because he is a “foreign-born Muslim” when they really mean “a black man.” They will not admit that the many procedural laws adopted to prevent abortion are in violation of the law as defined by the Supreme Court. They go along with the pretence that all the new rules are “for women’s health.” De facto acts of secession are given a pseudo-legal cover.

Thus we get people who say they do not want the government in control of women’s health under Obamacare—just after they order doctors to give women vaginal probes the doctors do not consider medically necessary. Or that they do not want the government telling Americans what they should do about their health—just before they prohibit “navigators” from even discussing choices about their health. The same people who oppose background checks for gun purchases now want background checks for anyone the government authorizes to explain the law to people. This is a gag rule to rank with antebellum bans on the discussion of slavery.

So we have one condition that resembles the pre-Civil War virtual secessionism—the holding of a whole party hostage to its most extreme members. We also have the other antebellum condition—the disproportionate representation of the extreme faction. In state after state in the 2012 election, there was a large vote for President Obama, but a majority of House seats went to Republicans. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, but Republicans got over twice as many seats (13 to 5), thanks to carefully planned gerrymandering of districts by Republican state legislatures. This advantage will be set in stone if all the voter restriction laws now being advanced block voters who might upset the disproportion.

The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.

(My only comment on all this I said a little over two years ago,)

Will the “Final” Revolution Be Started by Second Amendment Absolutists?

Gun-porn kitsch or talisman of the "final revolution?"

Gun-porn kitsch or talisman of the “final revolution?”

“A new American revolution is long overdue. This revolution has been brewing in the hearts and minds of the people for many years, but this Independence Day, it shall take a new form as the American Revolutionary Army will march on each state capital to demand that the governors of these 50 states immediately initiate the process of an orderly dissolution of the federal government through secession and reclamation of federally held property. Should one whole year from this July 4th pass while the crimes of this government are allowed to continue, we may have passed the point at which non-violent revolution becomes impossible.

“The time to sit idly by has passed. To remain neutral is to be complicit, just doing your job is not an excuse, and the line in the sand has been drawn between the people, and the criminals in Washington, D.C. While some timid souls will say that it is too early, that we can solve this problem through democratic means provided by government, that current levels of taxation are reasonable for the services provided, and that the crimes of this government are merely a tolerable nuisance, it may already be too late.

“While there is risk in drastic action, the greater danger lies in allowing this government to continue unchallenged. So if you are content with the status quo, stay home, get fat, watch the fireworks from a safe distance, and allow this Independence Day to pass like any other. But if you see as we see, and feel as we feel, we will see you on the front lines of freedom on July 4th, 2013 for this, The Final American Revolution.”

Signed, Adam Kokesh, May 23, 2013 from a cage in the Philadelphia federal prison.

In the summer and fall of 2011, I watched with excitement as the Occupy movement spread from Wall Street to Main Streets across the nation and, surprisingly, then the world. It was thrilling to watch a movement to change the way everything is done not only launch and spread but so quickly get deep into the consciousness of people all over the globe. Even the most powerful news media, though claiming at first to be uncomprehending of its aims, were taking its ideas about the  politics of inequality and the corrupting influence of money seriously. It felt like a world-historical revolution was being born right in front of our eyes.

Then came the winter of 2012 and Occupy, most of its camps having been forcibly removed from their reclaimed public spaces, seemed to lose its momentum and its influence. Media still talk about the 99% and the tyranny of debt  and pay closer attention to the misdeeds of the bankers, but by and large, Occupy fell out of the public eye. When it resurfaced briefly after Sandy, the media mostly ignored the powerful message it was sending that where the austerity-obsessed governments were failing, people power was succeeding. Occupy Sandy was made to look like a group of civic do-gooders.  Occupy’s radical Strike Debt program to buy defaulted medical debts and forgive them and its ongoing battles against residential foreclosures were all but completely ignored.

It’s easy to forget that just because the revolution is not being televised, there might still be a revolution going on. Continue reading

Ron Paul’s Principle of Personal Responsibility: A Critique

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5. Individuals are responsible for their own actions; government cannot and should not protect us from ourselves.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Part of the reason I began critiquing Ron Paul’s Ten Principles of a Free Society a couple of years ago was my curiosity about whether they really were essential to any free society or just Ron Paul’s vision of one. I think I can use the fifth principle to show why they are all uniquely Paulian/Libertarian and not, in fact, essential to all notions of a free society. To do that, I just need to show you an example of a free society where government or an authority can and should protect us “from ourselves.” Continue reading

Reagan Spending vs. #TeaParty Austerity

Would Tea Party Republicans have voted to give Reagan his 50% spending increases and 700,000 more government jobs?

In an article from the Washington Post on “Tea Party” Congressman Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, these paragraphs caught my attention:

Mulvaney mostly meets with voters through weekly town hall meetings. Sometimes he brings with him a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, full of bar graphs and fever charts depicting the growing federal deficit and the surging cost of health care. In January, Mulvaney added a chart on the automatic spending cuts, known as sequestration, which next year will total about $100 billion.

To him the numbers make sense. “In the greater scheme of things, they are not that big,” Mulvaney said.

But, every once in a while, a personal anecdote punctures his certainty. Earlier this month, a friend and former campaign volunteer stood up at one of the town hall meetings to tell Mulvaney that the defense cuts had cost him his job of five years with a large defense contractor. “I just want you to know that these cuts are real and they hurt me,” said Jeffrey Betsch, a single father of three daughters, who was on the verge of being evicted from his home.

After the Rotary Club speech, Mulvaney was thinking about his friend as he drove down a narrow two-lane ribbon of worn blacktop, past strawberry farms and pine forests. He felt terrible, he said, but he also believed that the country faced problems that were bigger than the struggles of a single constituent.

“I don’t see how you wipe out 40 cents of spending on every dollar and not have someone get hurt,” Mulvaney said.

The punchline of the article, which is titled “As budget cuts hit S.C., a congressman is surprised at constituents’ reactions” is that his constituents are actually not angry with him, despite his stubborn refusal to shower the district with federal dollars, as his predecessor Rep.  John Spratt did. It was anger toward Spratt and his loose spending ways that propelled Mulvaney into office in 2010. That same anger may be the wind at his back if he runs for higher office in his state.

Yet principled though they may be, Mulvaney’s actions have had real consequences for his constituents. In addition to his former campaign volunteer, the Congressman faced the irritation of an Air Force general in his district who claimed the effects of the sequester had made the AF less ready for warfare than at any time in memory. To which charges, Mulvaney responded,  “If the cuts force us to look for better ways of saving money in the future, they will be a success. We can’t go backwards.”

How can a progressive argue with such principle? The chief pain caused in Mulvaney’s district is to the military and “independent” defense contractors–or should we say, to the people who work for either sector. Do progressives want to see that money continue to flow to those pockets, or can we use this opportunity of Tea Party intransigence to rethink our spending priorities? Continue reading

Memo to Rand Paul: Condescension Won’t Win You the Hearts of the “Rest of America”

Sen. Rand Paul

From the Huffington Post:

At a sold-out New Hampshire Republican Party dinner Monday night, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) encouraged the room of GOP supporters to embrace diversity and outreach if they want to take the White House in 2016, the Courier-Journal in Louisville reports.

“We need to be like the rest of America,” Paul said. “We’re going to win when we look like America. We need to be white, we need to be brown, we need to be black, we need to be with tattoos, without tattoos, with ponytails, without ponytails, with beards, without.”

Paul urged New Hampshire Republicans to reshape their party’s image and become the “party of opportunity.”

“We need to be that party that can express it in a way that shows that we care about people,” Paul said, according to the Concord Monitor. “We need to care about people even if they are on government assistance.”

Paul may be playing coy about his plans for a presidential run, but there’s no doubt at all about his plans to influence the Republican Party’s national chances for the highest office in some way. In addition to his high-profile and principled filibuster of drone attacks on Americans in March (principles that he seemed to have walked back a bit in April), Paul has also caught the press’s attention visiting Howard University,  the storied “Black Harvard” located in Washington, D.C.,  and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where he spoke in favor of amnesty for undocumented workers in some cases  in opposition to his own position pre-Election 2012. Paul has been putting quite a bit more sweat into outreach to non-Republican demographics than any of his peers since, maybe, Jack Kemp in the 1980s.

So why is it almost certain that Paul will fail? It’s not just that he’s dealing with the Sisyphean task of making the Grand Old White People’s Party attractive to young multiculturals. I mean, that’s a difficult enough task, for sure, especially given the way the party’s hardcore rank-and-filers and its most visible politicians are able to undo all Paul’s efforts with just a little bit of  talk about the issues that matter most to Paul’s alleged target audiences (if his audience isn’t actually just more moderate white independents), and the way many on the right resist threats of outreach as betrayal of fundamental principles. No, I think Paul is going to fail unless he finds another way of talking about his aspirations for the party–and to really try to understand if his aspirations for the party are genuinely appealing to non-Republican groups. It’s one thing to want more diversity in the party; it’s another thing entirely to know how to build it. You do not build diversity by making speeches that scream how little you understand the audience you’re trying to appeal to. Continue reading

Peggy Noonan: Iraq “Half-Killed” the GOP

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I never thought I’d be quoting Peggy Noonan to the extent I do in this post, but her latest column is an enjoyably slashing critique of the effect of the Iraq war catastrophe on the Republican Party.  It also coincides nicely with my series of “anniversary cards” to the Iraq invasion. From my perspective, she’s not right on the money on everything she says–as usual, e.g. she gives the mediocrity that was President Ronald Reagan way too much personal credit for “vision” and “stewardship” during his administration–but in general, her points should be well-taken by the bloodied remains of her party. The rest of us can just enjoy the spectacle of the good ol’ party beating up on itself.

Did the Iraq war hurt the GOP? Yes. The war, and the crash of ’08, half killed it. It’s still digging out, and whether it can succeed is an open question….:

It ruined the party’s hard-earned reputation for foreign-affairs probity. They started a war and didn’t win it. It was longer and costlier by every measure than the Bush administration said it would be. Before Iraq, the GOP’s primary calling card was that it was the party you could trust in foreign affairs. For half a century, throughout the Cold War, they were serious about the Soviet Union, its moves, feints and threats. Republicans were not ambivalent about the need for and uses of American power, as the Democrats were in the 1970s and 1980s, but neither were they wild. After Iraq it was the Republicans who seemed at best the party of historical romantics or, alternatively, the worst kind of cynic, which is an incompetent one. Iraq marked a departure in mood and tone from past conservatism.

It muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation. No Burkean prudence or respect for reality was evident. Ronald Reagan hated the Soviet occupation of the Warsaw Pact countries—really, hated the oppression and violence. He said it, named it, and forced the Soviets to defend it. He did not, however, invade Eastern Europe to liberate it. He used military power sparingly. He didn’t think the right or lucky thing would necessarily happen. His big dream was a nuclear-free world, which he pursued daringly but peacefully.

It ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980. This has had untold consequences, and not only in foreign affairs. And that ascendance was hard-earned. By 2006 Republicans had lost the House, by 2008 the presidency. Curry quotes National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru at a recent debate at the American Enterprise Institute: “You could make the argument that the beginning of the end of Republican dominance in Washington was the Iraq War, at least a stage of the Iraq War, 2005-06.” In 2008 a solid majority of voters said they disapproved of the war. Three-quarters of them voted for Barack Obama.

It undermined respect for Republican economic stewardship. War is costly. No one quite knows or will probably ever know the exact financial cost of Iraq and Afghanistan, which is interesting in itself. Some estimates put it at $1 trillion, some $2 trillion. Mr. Curry cites a Congressional Budget Office report saying the Iraq operation had cost $767 billion as of January 2012. Whatever the number, it added to deficits and debt, and along with the Bush administration’s domestic spending helped erode the Republican Party’s reputation for sobriety in fiscal affairs.

It quashed debate within the Republican Party. Political parties are political; politics is about a fight. The fight takes place at the polls and in debate. But the high stakes and high drama of the wars—and the sense within the Bush White House that it was fighting for our very life after 9/11—stoked an atmosphere in which doubters and critics were dismissed as weak, unpatriotic, disloyal. The GOP—from top, the Washington establishment, to bottom, the base—was left festering, confused and, as the years passed, lashing out. A conservative movement that had prided itself, in the 1970s and 1980s, on its intellectualism—”Of a sudden, the Republican Party is the party of ideas,” marveled New York’s Democratic senator Pat Moynihan in 1979—seemed no longer capable of an honest argument. Free of internal criticism, national candidates looked daffy and reflexively aggressive—John McCain sang “Bomb, Bomb Iran”—and left the party looking that way, too.

It killed what remained of the Washington Republican establishment. This was not entirely a loss, to say the least. But establishments exist for a reason: They’re supposed to function as The Elders, and sometimes they’re actually wise. During Iraq they dummied up—criticizing might be bad for the lobbying firm. It removed what credibility the establishment had. And they know it.