Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Alternate View Of The Struggle Unfolding

It has been throughout, though inartfully expressed, argued here that the Republican objective is at least threefold:

- deregulation, for the benefit of powerful interests against those of consumers, workers and, generally, the middle class;

- exacerbating the gap between rich and poor and between rich and the middle class;

- opposing sensible, even conservative, reform in order to create gridlock- and subsequently the perception that government just doesn't work and the party more closely associated with it lacks legitimacy.

Things are rarely clean and neat and there are other objectives the GOP holds dear. But Open Left's Paul Rosenberg on Tuesday suggested that the overriding goal of the Republican Party is not ideological. He quotes Digby accurately observing that if President Obama

thinks he will be rewarded for being serious about balancing the budget he needs to think again. The Democrats thought they had banished the "big spender" label for all time when Clinton not only balanced the budget but created a surplus. The thinking was that nobody could ever say again that the Democrats were irresponsible stewards of the economy and they could finally "take that off the table."

I think it's fairly clear that didn't work out the way they planned it. The Republicans have a neat trick of running up huge debt and creating economic crises when they are in office and then vilifying the Democrats for what they have to do to clean up the mess.Once it's done they come back into power and pass out all the goodies to their rich friends. It's a clear pattern. There's no "taking it off the table."

Rosenberg cited other examples of Democrats imagining they could take an issue "off the table:" Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment; JFK cutting the marginal tax rate; Mondale, leveling with the American people about raising taxes to pay off the debt President Reagan was rolling up; Dukakis pleading "it's about competence, not ideology"; and the party generally acquiescing in the extra-constitutional right of individual ownership of firearms. He concluded

Because that's what this is ultimately all about. It's not about policy x, y or z. It's not a battle about policy at all. It's a battle about identity, as in "who is going to be the boss, the ruler, the rule-maker, interpreter and enforced and who is going to be ruled." If there is anything that conservatives don't have that they want, then they are going to get it, and if they don't then they are going to scream bloody murder like a two-year-old until they get it.

That's what it takes to take things off the table: Handing the whole table over to conservatives.

And even that has to be done with a smile, or it just won't be good enough.

A little cynical, perhaps. (And it really doesn't matter if it's with a smile.) But a day earlier, as if to lend credence to the theory Rosenberg would propose, Ian Millhiser of Think Progress quoted The Hill as reporting

Sen. Jim DeMint warned his colleagues Monday night that he would place a hold on all legislation that has not been “hot-lined” by the chamber or has not been cleared by his office before the close of business Tuesday. Although the South Carolina Republican has objected for years to the hot-lining of legislation until his staff at the Republican Steering Committee has reviewed it, DeMint’s threat to essentially shut down legislation in the chamber is remarkable....

DeMint can get away with this stunt because the Senate’s rules are ripe for abuse. Unless all 100 senators agree to begin and end debate on a bill without objection, the dissenting senators can force up to 60 hours of uninterrupted debate before a final vote can take place. As a new CAP issue brief explains, by wasting 60 hours of the Senate’s limited time just to pass a single bill, a small number of senators can grind the Senate to a near-complete halt.

The following day, an intimidated John Cornyn, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, largely endorsed DeMint's power grab.

DeMint is, admittedly, arguably the most conservative member of the United States Senate. Still, this parliamentary maneuver is far less about ideology than about raw, naked power. At some point, observers need to look at Republican obstructionism- voting en masse (or nearly) against veterans' health benefits, loans to small businesses, extension of unemployment benefits, and other moderate measures- and ask, as Rosenberg has done, if the GOP is making a broader statement: We are the biggest, toughest guys on the block and you better get used to it.

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