What’s the End Game to Republican Hostage Taking?

The following, from The New York Times, is some stunning “inside baseball” reportage surrounding the Republican shut down of the federal government and John Boehner’s threat to default on the nation’s debt if Obamacare is not dismantled:

They [the House Republicans] are only trying to survive another day, Republican strategists say, hoping to maintain unity as long as possible so that when the Republican position collapses, they can capitulate on two issues at once — financing the government and raising the debt ceiling — and head off any internal party backlash. Republican lawmakers say Mr. Boehner has assured them privately that he will not permit a default.

Backers of the speaker say he does not have to fear a coup. His obvious successor, the majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, is so caught up in the current legislative battle that he would probably be washed away with Mr. Boehner in a Tea Party putsch, and with no other obvious candidates in waiting, no such uprising is likely.

“I do not believe he’s primarily concerned with saving his speakership. He’s concerned with saving the House Republican Conference,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican House member who advises the current House leadership.

If the speaker were to move on a stopgap spending bill now, without conservative policy priorities attached, it would most likely pass with Republican and Democratic votes. But the ensuing Republican uproar — on and off Capitol Hill — would ensure that there would be no Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling. “It’s common-sense strategy,” one Republican strategist said. “If you’re going to take a bullet, you want to take just one.”

Translation: The Republicans have boxed themselves in and claustrophobia is now asserting itself. It will be over in a few weeks. They will get nothing. President Obama and Harry Reed need merely to wait them out. This is a political Waco. Keep matches from the scene.

File:Thích Quảng Đức self-immolation.jpg

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to What’s the End Game to Republican Hostage Taking?

  1. My wife is Canadian and she asked me to explain this to her. I tried. Somewhere near where I mentioned political suicide she started to understand. It was after that point that ‘because they can’ was a valid statement to her. She nodded her head in quiet agreement a bit later when I mentioned “some people are too stupid to stay in office” … I’m not sure she understands but there are no politicians on our holiday party guest list.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      Yes, unconscious self-hatred and self-destruction are in play here (and taking out others on your way down), but there’s another layer here as well: the denial of death over the long-term.

      I think what we’re witnessing is Republicans manically focusing-in on Obamacare as a nightmare for them to fret about because doing this is easier than changing their own behavior to avert long-term political marginalization. It’s easier to pitch a fit about Obamacare now than to figure out how to get to a compromise bill on immigration reform, the thing that will actually save the party’s future prospects. If you’re really interested in 21st century political survival, you don’t want your brand solidified as basically Southern, white, anti-urban, and anti-Hispanic.

      While Republicans are jerking around with trying to kill Obamacare (something, by the way, that women and Hispanics like), they don’t have to think about how they are going to win female and Hispanic votes in future elections and thus surviving as a viable party. The Republican Party nationally is having the same meltdown that the Republican Party in California had 20 years ago. The Republican Party in California never adjusted to the fast-shifting demographic and cultural reality surrounding it and is now largely sidelined in California politics. It got freaked out by immigration and that became its brand.

      And think about the anxiety the focus on Obamacare represents. There are elections every two years in the United States, which means that between 2013 and 2000, you’ve got four opportunities to hold the House and take back the Senate (and two opportunities to take back the Presidency). If you were really confident that you could win elections consistently going forward, you would wait for Obamacare to fail of its own weight and for the electorate to vote you in to overturn it. The urgency and panic suggest that Republicans intuit that they need a hail Mary pass; that they can’t be patient; that maybe the only way to win anymore is by creating an economic crisis and then hope the lightning rod of blame shifts to the Democratic president.

      • The trouble with their plan, as you describe it, is that as fickle and unintelligent as the voting public seems too often to be, they won’t forget how these furloughs happened. It’s not a question of politics when you need help putting food on the table. People will remember who fucked them over. It’s not “the government” is it the republicans. They are too stupid to be re-elected. People were against Obamacare right up to the point that they stopped getting paid. The republicans don’t seem to understand this point.

  2. syrbal-labrys says:

    You know that a man DID light himself afire in the Nat’l Mall on Friday evening, right?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I read that he saluted toward the Capitol before setting himself on fire. He may be the canary in the coal mine of the Republican psyche (taking on a bit too literal a manifestation).

      • syrbal-labrys says:

        I haven’t seen that version. In any case, having been around when the monk lit himself afire in Viet Nam, I find it an intensely depressing occurrence in American life.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        Well, I agree. And if it is reflective of the far right-wing psyche in America, it says to me that this is, for them, a second war of American independence. When people fight for their independence, they will behave in ways that, to outsiders, seems extreme and irrational. People fighting for their perceived independence and nationalist boundaries cannot be talked to in the manner of compromise. I’m wondering what happened in the psyche of conservatives in this country since the Clinton years that they’ve become so alienated from their country as a whole.

        When liberals get alienated and are in the minority, they crater, focusing on making art and taking psychedelics; their trip goes inward (think of Allen Ginsberg in the Reagan years). When conservatives get alienated, what do they do? Take cruises to Alaska, the last undefiled portion of “true America”? Hide in Idaho compounds? Go to fundamentalist churches more often?

        How can white conservatives keep themselves happy during an era when they are going to be part of a permanent minority (perhaps for the rest of this century); when the country, each and every year, is going to take on, more and more, the look, politics, and cultural feel of California?

        Will they live their lives permanently pissed off, watching Fox News red alerts? What will they set on fire?

  3. dcyates says:

    Holy mackerel, the liberal echo chamber is in full operation here. “Republican hostage-taking”?!? The Republicans made it clear that they would continue funding all govt programs EXCEPT for the unpopular Obamacare train wreck and the Democrats rejected it, opting for an all-or-nothing, “if you won’t give us everything we want, we’re taking our ball and going home” approach — where, in the process, they go out of their way to close public parks and spaces (even those that are primarily privately funded!) — and you’re accusing the GOP of taking hostages?!? Is this a bad joke?
    The GOP-led House is perfectly within their constitutional rights to do this. In point of fact, it’s their constitutional DUTY to do this!
    Other presidents have tried to reduce and soften the impact of govt shutdowns. Obama, in his petulant vindictiveness, has been the only one to actually try to make the effects worse! All in a reckless and irresponsible effort to score political points. The man is truly pathetic and totally without shame.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      You’re free to muddy the waters here by pretending that the shoe is on the other foot. It simply shows that you’re in the projection and recrimination phase and it’s all you’ve got (try to shift blame; don’t take responsibility for the situation you’ve created).

      All Boehner has to do is hold a no-strings attached debt ceiling vote and government opening vote and we’re done because there are enough moderate Republicans and liberal Democrats to reach 218, He doesn’t do this because he’s using both situations as hostage conditions for dismantling Obamacare and extracting other concessions from the president.

      But Obama, after getting burned in 2011, is saying, “Never again.” No negotiating with a gun to the country’s head. Negotiations have to be done after the government opens and the debt ceiling is raised. They’re not on the table. Republicans can flail, fog, smoke, project, muddy, and recriminate all they want, but it just means that they’re lighting themselves on fire in public and can’t find a hand to grab hold-of before they buckle and collapse to the ground in a heap of ash.

      Waco politics is over. If you want to get rid of Obamacare over the next six years, win elections.

      And think about this. You know that the demographics of the country are shifting; you know that the majority of Americans want some degree of universal health coverage to take pressure off of emergency rooms around the country; you know that they want the cost-curve in health care bent downward. Even if your hostage-taking worked and Obama dismantled Obamacare for you this year, isn’t it obvious that Hillary and the Democrats would simply run on all of the same health care reforms that go under the name of Obamacare today and win elections on them? Dismantling Obamacare means that insurance companies can go back to denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions; it means that doctors don’t have to shift to electronic offices and can go back to less efficient paper record keeping; it means hospitals don’t have to show evidence of results to get reimbursed; it means that insurance companies don’t have to offer policies that have minimum coverage protections (such as prescription medication coverage), etc.

      What is now called Obamacare will simply become Hillarycare and the Republicans will be, in just a few years, in no position to overturn it anyway.

      All of this, on the Republican side, is just a way of not having to focus on immigration reform and moderating the party for survival into the rest of this century.

      • dcyates says:

        As I’ve already noted, in response to the will of their constituents, House Republicans first voted to fund all of government — except Obamacare. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it.
        Then, the Republicans voted to fully fund the government, but merely delay the implementation of Obamacare for one year. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it.
        Finally, the Republicans voted to fully fund the government, but added a requirement that everyone live under Obamacare. No more special waivers for Congress and their staff, and no waivers for big business or unions without the same waivers for individuals. Obama refused to negotiate and Senate Democrats refused to pass it.
        So, yes, as anyone can plainly see, Republicans are obviously the ones at fault here.

      • Santi Tafarella says:

        You’re still in the recriminations phase of your argumentation, and that’s evidence to me that you don’t get it. The Republican Party, if it wants to overturn Obamacare, has to win more elections.


  4. dcyates says:

    Btw, tax revenue is still coming in, which is more than enough to cover the interest payments on the U.S. federal debt. There is no reason whatsoever why they would need to default on a single payment. This is yet more Democrat fear-mongering.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      The obvious refutation to this is to watch the stock market, the ratings agencies, and interest rates. When the Treasury says it’s out of money later in October and Boehner refuses to hold a clean up or down vote on raising the debt ceiling, the stock market and interest rates will tell you what that means. It’s all on Boehner because the votes are always there to finish off this hostage game. And if what came to the floor for a vote didn’t pass, it wouldn’t pass because 218 Republicans voted not to open the government and raise the debt ceiling. There would be no more finger-pointing. They would be on record for bringing about whatever consequences would stem from defaulting on the nation’s debts and prolonging the shutdown.

      Republicans can recriminate all they want, but the reality is that, unless their party is completely suicidal, it will all be over sometime in mid-October and they will have accomplished nothing (except some damage to the economy and their own brand).

      When you’re in a hole you don’t want to be in, you stop digging.

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