25 January 2014

GOP: SLOW ROAD TO NORMAL

LAST UPDATED: 02/03/2016
An ongoing theme of this blog is the GOP's struggle with post-George W. Bush Administration reckoning. These two posts continue on this theme... after the jump.

PREQUEL, January 2014: One of the dumbest words in our culture is "normal." The word always sounds as though that which, or those who are other-than-normal are abnormal. And abnormal has always come with an underlying meaning of "strange."

When applied to anything at all, the use of the word "normal" is alienating. And, it's rude. Who gets to say what or who is "normal" in the first place? Applied to today's GOP, however, it is increasingly clear that abnormal and strange have gone hand in hand for several years now.

We know they've been engaged in a strategy of "no" since January 2009; all in an effort to halt the Obama Agenda from being enacted, and from succeeding. A strategy, they will soon learn, that will ultimately backfire. And, what has emerged in the five or so years since, is that they now stand for nothing credible, and what's more, we all see it. 

Initially, President Obama bent over backwards, even adopting a number of Republican-developed legislation as his own, and still they didn't budge. In every way you look at it, the president did not have normal dealings with the Hill from Day One, up until the 2013 shutdown. That had been a frustratingly abnormal period of paralysis in DC.

It's actually funny that in the Netflix documentary, "Mitt," (which is fantastic) there is a scene in which Ann Romney completely mischaracterizes this period; and directs sole blame at the president. I would remind her that he was, time and again, more than happy - along with most Congressional Democrats - to debate, compromise, and get things moving.

Mrs. Romney, I ask you: What if the GOP wannabe-leaders hadn't have secretly met on inauguration night 2009, as is now known, to plot the infamous do-nothing strategy? What if they opted instead to engage in the debate the president was referring to here, just days after his first inauguration?:
"The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose." (President Obama, first press conference, 2009)
Recently, a breakthrough. There are signs that "normal" may be beginning to return to the GOP. 

The clean end to the shutdown, the passed budget*, the omnibus, and the speaker finally truth-telling. It's all very hopeful; and it's the kind of change I can believe in. Wink. Sure, the coming 2014 midterms have a moderating effect even on the looniest of Republican candidates. The gradually improving economy is also helping to diffuse the previously debilitating wails from the tea party.

For now, cautious optimism will do. Until we get movement on Immigration and Background Checks (which should have been no-brainers in 2013); and when another clean Debt Ceiling increase passes again. Only then will we know that normal GOP may be emerging.

There have been dark times before for the GOP. You may remember the time they felt they had to add Compassionate to "Conservative" to distinguish the normal from the extremist wing that had similarly gone off the rails in the 90s.

With no incumbency, 2016 promises to be another one of America's signature battles between two competing - and hopefully uplifting - visions for the country. We can only hope that, by then, normal GOP will truly have become the reality again.

UPDATE 01/26/2014 : White House signals Congressional collaboration not only path forward in 2014. Nice. (SOURCE)
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*The Washington Post link provided in "passed budget" above, by the way, is a piece by Katrina vanden Heuvel, who makes good points. But the point she misses is the fact that the budget - while it could have been so much better - is an important first step to normal, considering the previous five years.
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SEQUEL, March 2015: They don't seem to be "normalizing." I agree with former Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), in many ways they're getting worse. 

This piece, from the Huffington Post, is a must read. It exposes the true motives behind the recently released Republican budget. Here's an important bit from it:
"After decrying these abstract costs, the GOP then makes clear what they're really upset about: Obamacare, the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law and Environmental Protection Agency rules on carbon emissions from burning coal. No other legislation or regulatory initiative is mentioned. While the Republican budget bill decries "unnecessary red tape," the only examples it can find of such inefficiency just happen to be the signature domestic policy achievements of the Obama administration."
The GOP - the party that pretends to hate big government - stands for nothing nowadays, except an unrelenting desire to create redundant governmental functions to disrupt the implementation of duly passed law.

No, it's not "Morning in America," for the GOP today. (1) They don't even have one "Point of Light," much less the thousands. (2) And these days, you won't ever see a "Compassionate Conservative." (3) God, that sounds so liberal! And, apparently, even "Severe Conservatives," (4) don't cut it.

Nope. These days, the GOP isn't "normal" unless it is swinging punches at the other side, while nakedly working for interest groups desperate for mankind to cling to our 20th century habits.
_____________________
1-Ronald Reagan
2-George H.W. Bush
3-George W. Bush
4-Mitt Romney

UPDATE 08/12/2015 : The GOP is currently - again, still - in a battle to figure out who it is. Governor Kasich (R-OH) is the best in the bunch and has the most potential to take the GOP back from the brink. If they pick him, November 2016 can truly be a battle between two strong sides... with the outcome completely unpredictable. Anyone else = Democrats keep the White House.

UPDATE 10/12/2015 : Here is New York Times' Paul Krugman's take on essentially the same topic, a GOP lost.

UPDATE 10/31/2015 : Wow, what a difference these two weeks have made for the GOP (since the last time I updated this post, that is). The good news that has come out of the craziness in the House - a two-year budget on its way to the president's desk - has almost been eclipsed by that horrific CNBC debate. The RNC have every reason to complain about those infantile questions, but they should have left it there.

Leave it to the smoke-and-mirrors-obsessed wing of the GOP to take it too far by dramatically canceling a future NBC debate in February, 2016. (As the Newsweek link points out, this canceled debate happened to be the only one in the 2016 cycle scheduled to air on Spanish-language television.) The cancelation feels like the first official shot in a war the conservative movement has been dying to fight - against the so called "mainstream media." This world is way too interconnected for that war to be anything but disastrous for the RNC. Asking a candidate to defend his tax policy is not a "gotcha question."

Back to the good news. As crazy and not "normal" as the Republican race for president is unfolding before us, it is refreshing to see the Congressional GOP begin to piece themselves together and start moving things along, in a big way. Of course, it remains to be seen if this trend becomes a real paradigm shift in how the GOP govern - especially now with a new Speaker (Paul Ryan, R-WI). Considering this post is almost two years old, that road to normal remains as slow as ever.

UPDATE 11/01/2015 : In a CNN interview this morning with Dana Bash (covering for Jake Tapper in "State of the Union"), Speaker Ryan, at least in his rhetoric, did not sound like he is ready to enact the changes necessary to make a real impact, to his broken party and to the nation (the real victims of what will eventually be almost eight years of do-and-know-nothing obstructionism from the GOP). In Ryan's interview, not once did he reference working with Democrats, or say the word "bipartisan." With a Democrat in the White House, it makes almost no sense - if he claims to be  serving in a spirit of getting things done in a realistic fashion - to ignore the other half of the equation.

It is worth noting that Speaker Ryan only became the speaker after he pre-agreed - he sent an actual signed letter - to ignore the immigration issue during what's left of the Obama Administration. He proclaimed, in his first speech as speaker (in so many words), "...no one is looking to blame or point fingers. We are wiping the slate clean." In another interview today - with ABC this time - he even goes so far as to blame both sides, when pushed to explain who "broke" the House. Both sides? Since John Boehner became the speaker in 2010, the minority party has been virtually silenced.

The establishment's unwillingness to address who is to blame, and to marginalize that group - the fringe wing, aka Tea Party, aka Freedom Caucus - almost guarantees that the GOP's broader "abnormality" problem in Congress will persist.

UPDATE 12/03/2015 : A whole lot of nothing from Speaker Ryan.

UPDATE 12/21/2015 : Finally, the Congress has shifted and passed a bipartisan tax and spend bill worth $1.8 trillion. This is a promising development, considering what is written above. Sadly, the moment of bipartisanship is more likely a way to bat down the popularity of Donald Trump, rather than a true desire of the GOP to come together and begin to get more good things done through healthy compromise. The ink was still drying on this bill, when various Senate and House Republican leaders were on tv announcing yet another push to repeal the health care law in the new year. (Rolling eyes)

This tax and spend bill will be kick-starting the economy like nothing has in the past seven years. The hope is that the angry mobs that Donald Trump is currently exploiting in his hateful campaign will begin to shrink, or at least not be so angry, as the $1.8 trillion begins to cycle through the country.

This is something the "establishment" will never admit to having done. But boy, will it work.

Bye, Donald. You have been absolutely horrific. Please go away forever.

UPDATE 01/06/2016 : See what I mean...
The Latest Obamacare Repeal Vote Is The Most Pointless Yet
(Huffington Post)

UPDATE 02/03/2016 : Well, finally!
Speaker Paul Ryan to Tea Party: "You are the problem."
(Washington Post)

This is precisely the tilt back to "normal" the nation needs. Ryan's delivery, of course, was vintage passive-aggressive nonesense verging on total revisionism, when it comes to blaming Democrats for their own obstructionism. But, if that's what he has to say to get the Congress moving again, so be it. It's a start.

As I've said, it's a slow road back to normal.