Despite opinion polls indicating that the popularity of the tea party has tanked, their grip on Republican legislators at the federal and state levels, as well as GOP governors, is stronger than ever. In fact, they have achieved something akin to veto power over economic and social reforms, which are supported by substantial majorities of American voters. In effect, tea partyism has been grandfathered in by gerrymandering and the weakness of fearful Republican leaders, especially McConnell and Boehner, but also including McCain and others.
These “leaders” live in a much narrower political universe than do average Americans. They’ve got good health care and income security for themselves and their families, and they apparently believe that they can afford to indulge ideological extravagances with impunity. Not a one of them shows any indication that they give a damn about millions of American children having no access to health care, high unemployment or educational opportunities. The only thing that makes today’s Republican politicians insecure is the fear of being primaried. Even then, however, many of them, know they can fall back on corporate sinecures, if necessary. Economic insecurity is an alien concept which has no bearing on their lives.
There was a time when Republican politicians fought like hell for what they believed in, but would eventually negotiate in good faith for the good of the people. That time is over. Good faith negotiations on major reforms are no longer a part of GOP strategy.
When Olympia Snowe refused to challenge the reactionary tide that engulfed her party, that signaled the end of the hope that some smart Republican would come forward and take a courageous stand in support of bipartisan progress for the common good. When Scott Brown won Sen. Kennedy’s seat, I briefly entertained the hope that maybe he would break the GOP dam and make it possible for a few Republican moderates to offer a more bipartisan spirit. I still think it would have strengthened their party for the long haul.
Many Democrats see value in having a weak, fearful Republican party. It should benefit our candidates, right? Well, maybe here and there. But looking at the big picture, a stronger GOP would be good for the Democratic Party because we would have to step up our game to compete. Regretfully, that calculation seems irrelevant to the current political reality.
If you had to boil down the Democratic message for the 2014 elections into a lucid sentence, it would be “Vote for us because they are nuts and corrupt.” A clear distinction, yes, but it may not be enough to inspire the needed wave election that will make it possible for Democrats to enact the reforms the public supports.
If “nuts and corrupt” seems like an overstatement, consider the following from Paul Krugman’s column about Republicans being driven by spite in their resistance to the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion:
…Medicaid rejectionism will deny health coverage to roughly 3.6 million Americans, with essentially all of the victims living near or below the poverty line. And since past experience shows that Medicaid expansion is associated with significant declines in mortality, this would mean a lot of avoidable deaths: about 19,000 a year, the study estimated.
Just think about this for a minute. It’s one thing when politicians refuse to spend money helping the poor and vulnerable; that’s just business as usual. But here we have a case in which politicians are, in effect, spending large sums, in the form of rejected aid, not to help the poor but to hurt them.
And as I said, it doesn’t even make sense as cynical politics. If Obamacare works (which it will), millions of middle-income voters — the kind of people who might support either party in future elections — will see major benefits, even in rejectionist states. So rejectionism won’t discredit health reform. What it might do, however, is drive home to lower-income voters — many of them nonwhite — just how little the G.O.P. cares about their well-being, and reinforce the already strong Democratic advantage among Latinos, in particular.
Rationally, in other words, Republicans should accept defeat on health care, at least for now, and move on. Instead, however, their spitefulness appears to override all other considerations. And millions of Americans will pay the price.
For America to progress, we are left with the hope that our GOTV and candidate recruitment edges are good enough for a net gain of 17+ House seats and hold the Senate majority in 2014. We are going to need some luck for that scenario to materialize. Yet it remains a more realistic hope than the fantasy that some Republican will come forward from the shadows and lead his party to sweet bipartisan reason.
Dems have no alternative to an all-out effort to make 2014 a wave election, challenging though it is, capitalizing at every opportunity on growing public disgust with the GOP. For the longer haul, however, we have demographic advantages, and there is every reason to believe that a more intense commitment to candidate recruitment and training, along with fully developed GOTV resources, can secure a working majority to make the tea party veto a nightmare that belongs to the past.