Insurgent Republicans: Goodbye
December 11, 2012
“As their leaders inch toward agreeing to higher tax rates, dozens of House Republicans find themselves caught between the will of a larger American public that favors higher taxes on the rich and the wishes of constituents who re-elected them overwhelmingly to oppose the Obama agenda at every turn.”
This is the lead paragraph in a story in today’s NY Times about the Republican Party and its attempt to deal with Obama’s victory last month. It portrays the “insurgents” in the Republican Party as “caught,” which is accurate. But they are not only “caught” between “a term not heard often in the House – the national interest,” as the article has it, but also they are “caught” between their constituents and the establishment Republicans – who basically have these insurgents right where they want them. That is, they, the insurgents, can remain true to their constituents’ desires regarding taxes and spending, in which case they will be rendered powerless in the House, or they can renege on their constituents, in which case they will probably be defeated in the next election. In either case, the establishment Republicans will prevail while preserving their own power and prominence, which is of course what they, the establishment types, want to accomplish, even if it means joining Obama and the Democrats in constructing a deal to avoid what is called “the fiscal cliff.”
You see, when this alleged “fiscal cliff” was created – and even recently – many were critical, seeing it as a disaster waiting to happen. But, as we now can see, it was nothing of the sort – except of course to the insurgent Republicans. As Boehner and other establishment Republicans must have known, this “fiscal cliff” helped to create a no win situation for the insurgents: They could cause the government to go over the cliff or they could renege on their principles. In either case, they would lose! And, from this perspective, all the better that Obama won the presidential election as that makes the insurgents’ situation even more perilous than it otherwise would be. Compromise is one thing; but compromising with a “socialist” who is the epitome of a “radical liberalism” is another thing altogether.
This is the sort of thing that is very common in our political system, viz., the collusion of the “two” parties that preserves the power of the establishment faction in each of those parties. Our textbook view, according to which the Republicans and the Democrats want to win elections, to win every election, as well as to win every political battle, cannot account for the behavior we are witnessing now. The desire to win every election or every battle is obviously not the case and especially not the case when winning an election or winning a political battle threatens the power of those in “leadership” positions. Here, the establishment Republicans, as is becoming evident, are quite willing to “lose” the deal to be struck with Obama to avoid the “fiscal cliff.” Hence, this explains why “responsible” Republicans are now using “a term not heard often in the House – the national interest” to justify this “loss.” Of course, these “responsible” Republicans are actually motivated not so much by the national interest as by their own self-interests, especially by their interests in retaining their power and prominence. In this case, their self-interests may align with the national interest but it is the former at least as much as the latter that is driving them and when the former and the latter do not align, it is the former that prevails.
A troubling question is: How far would these politicians go in order to preserve their power? That is, what kind of losses would they accept to preserve their power? Would they, for example, fight what they knew to be a losing war to preserve their power? Would they propose policies or institutional reforms they knew would fail to preserve their power? It is hard to say but not difficult to imagine instances where such behavior actually was undertaken, aka’ Vietnam or FDR’s “court packing” proposal.
It is often said that politics is not for the faint of heart. Indeed. We might even say that our politics, based as it is on self-interest [just read the Federalist], is for those with no heart.