The Republican party is congratulating itself for following through with the sequester and avoiding any new taxes — this time in the form of closing tax loopholes which most Republicans once favored — but the continuing crisis risks putting the country into a double dip recession while the American system appears dysfunctional.
The GOP wants to blame Obama for “not leading.” That’s false. We have a divided system of government and the President has never been able to lead Congress. The President can and has over the decades negotiated with Congress, made compromises, and cut deals, but divided government means checks and balances. When it works, extremes are avoided and pragmatic compromise is reached. When it fails, gridlock ensues.
So what next?
The Republicans are internally divided, as everyone knows. But that’s nothing new, in a two party system there will be vast divisions as a matter of course. Usually parties gravitate to the center, where most voters are. This isn’t happening with the Republicans, at least not yet.
The pragmatists want to move towards the center and relegate the “tea party” wing of the party to the sidelines. They think the core problem for the GOP is that the far right has had too much a say over GOP policies and made compromise seem a bad word. Symbolic is the way the far right torpedoed the effort by President Bush and John McCain to get comprehensive immigration reform passed in 2007. If they had passed that, voting patterns today might be much more friendly to the Republicans.
The most insipid slogan from the far right is that “compromise is a violation of principle.” To pragmatists, strict adherence to “principle” is mindless; context matters and compromise is a virtue. They hope to attract candidates that are moderate, reasonable, likable and able to get things done.
The jihadists don’t want to compromise. Bring on the sequester! Hell, many wanted the US to default on our debt and would be happy to shut down the government. Ted Cruz of Texas acts like a little McCarthy calling people “communist” (note to tea party: calling people communist ceased to mean anything after the end of the Cold War). Believing they represent what America “should be” they are waging a holy war to save the country. They are convinced global warming is a fraud – and due to cherry picking of dubious claims some actually believe that evidence is on their side! Some on this wing of the GOP wants to simply burn everything. They’re holy warriors!
Though it appears that while the jihadists hold the House Republican caucus hostage for a moment, the pragmatists are gaining the upper hand, especially after the unexpected defeats of 2012. Democrats gained in the Senate, kept the Presidency despite economic difficulties, and though the GOP held the house, Democrats got more votes overall. But the pragmatists need to change too – they need to learn how to connect with all voters.
The core problem of the Republican party was on display in the recent interview by Mitt and Ann Romney with Fox News. While most of the time Romney was gracious and reasonable, when they talked about their defeat it was clear they don’t get it. Mitt claimed that Obama appealed to minorities because of Obamacare — get it, that “minorities want free stuff, the government is bribing them” line. That disdain and disrespect for a large chunk of Americans — the core of the 47% quote — is a mindset that destroys the GOP brand. They want to think they are virtuous hard working self-reliant Americans while those Democrats and minorities are lazy moochers who want a handout. That is not only wrong, it’s so idiotic that it borders on the delusional.
Of course, Ann wasn’t much better, blaming the media, acting as if it were self-evident that her husband was right for the job. If anything their interview showed why the country dodged a bullet by not electing him – and how the GOP blame game prevents them from confronting real problems within their message and policy preferences. And Romney is one of the pragmatists!
In an ideal world the Democrats would be coming to the debate demanding tax increases while trying to defend so-called entitlements and aid to those already suffering the most. The Republicans would counter demanding spending cuts and deep entitlement reform.
After a process of negotiation the result would be a compromise. Entitlement reform and spending cuts that piss off the left wing of the Democratic party alongside tax increases that piss off the right wing of the Republican party. The idealists would be trumped by the pragmatists on both sides, that’s how our system is supposed to work.
But that won’t happen. The jihadists have hijacked the Republican party and they won’t compromise. It’s all spending cuts and deep entitlement reform or nothing. And of course, with a demand like that they’ll get nothing. The deficit will grow faster than if they compromised, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
So President Obama needs to make them an offer they can’t refuse. He needs to offer them real cuts through a restructuring of programs that brings about significant savings, in exchange for a mix of tax reform to increase revenue and investments to have our economy competitive for the new century.
The President should be specific. He should expect but not fear criticism from his own left flank. He should tell the American people “these are the cuts and reforms the Republicans want, and we’re willing to compromise and give them that, but they won’t take yes for an answer because they’re protecting tax breaks for big corporations and wealthy fat cats. They care more about protecting the rich than cutting the deficit and reforming wasteful programs.”
At that point, Republican pragmatists will realize that this is the best they can possibly achieve and will be good for the country. They will be able to undermine the jihadists. Without a compromise, it becomes the big campaign issue of 2014. To tea partiers thinking 2014 will be another 2010, think again. The Democrats learned their lesson, they’re already targeting districts for a ground game more like a Presidential year than an off year election.
After all, if the GOP can’t compromise at all, well, all the President has is the bully pulpit and the powers of the executive branch. Expect him to use both.