Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chaos Muppets

Impeachment is the word of the day, as after faux-scandal after faux-scandal have failed to stick, Republicans have finally found a government act that everyone agrees was an abuse of power (the IRS audits). Now, from what we know if the IRS scandal at this stage talk of impeachment is obviously ludicrous. Nonetheless, Jon Chait argues that Republicans should let the crazy fly.

It's an interesting question, to be honest. Our constitutional system depends on norms to function, and what we've seen these past few years is what happens when these norms start to breakdown -- when it becomes acceptable to try and kneecap entire wings of government by refusing outright to confirm any agency appointees, or to hold the entire economy hostage through the debt ceiling, or, for that matter, by tossing "impeachment" around every time Obama hears a sneeze without saying "God bless you." Our political system (defined crudely as who wins and loses elections), by contrast, is zero-sum -- it doesn't matter how much the American people hate you so long as they hate the other guy more. Chaos, as Littlefinger reminds us, is a ladder, and a calculated decision to sow chaos certainly can end up redounding to one party's benefit. The system is calibrated to respond to people who stay within well-defined borders, and when a player comes along who openly flouts those rules, he can gain a distinct advantage. This is why the Joker is Batman's most dangerous foe -- his behavior defies even those norms which govern how criminals behave.

But that chaos can aid its progenitors does not mean it always will, and the truly chaotic actor is by definition incapable of ceasing setting fires just because its no longer in his interest. The problem for Republicans is that I don't think this is planned chaos. The Clinton impeachment, for example, was obviously farcically weak on its merits, but at least it could be plausibly sold as a political strategy. It turned out to be a bad gambit -- the American people reacted badly, and the GOP was tarred as a bunch of overzealous hypocritical loons -- but they at least could claim that outcome was apparent only with the benefit of hindsight.

By contrast, today it seems quite clear that all the impeachment chatter is not a calculated strategy but simply an uncontrollable reflex. Impeachment was uttered about Solyndra and Fast and Furious. A number of high-profile Republicans have contemplated it for one alleged offense or another. World Net Daily convened a panel to discuss impeaching Obama over no less than a dozen different "scandals" ranging from the Libya war to Cap and Trade. Rob Portman gets elder statesman points for not being ready to commit to impeachment yet.

Republicans were convinced in 2012 that Benghazi was their ticket to victory, and were shocked that American voters didn't seem to think the Obama administration did anything wrong. One could say they've learned nothing. But I think the problem is deeper. The impeachment talk is no longer a political strategy -- its just the raw result of the conservative id flailing about, and Republicans can no longer keep it under control.


PG said...

The rise of the Tea Party is largely responsible for the GOP's inability to act in a purely strategic way. E.g. my Friday evening was interrupted several times because my father-in-law was getting phone calls from Tea Party organizations asking him to support (financially and through petition-signing, letters to his Congressman, etc.) a move to impeach Obama. He wasn't getting those calls from any organized Republican entity.

The Tea Party has enabled the GOP to lose elections (like Biden's Senate seat, which Republican Mike Castle was so certain to win -- until O'Donnell upset him in the primary -- that Biden's son didn't bother to seek the Democratic nomination) that it would have won easily with the establishment candidate. The Republican establishment and the Tea Party start from different premises. The GOP thinks conservatism has the best ideas, but it recognizes that many people disagree and that there's a limit on how far right you can run and still win. The Tea Party assumes that most Americans are conservative -- even *very* conservative -- and that the key to winning is to make those people realize that the GOP will stick to conservatism and thus can be trusted. (On a less idealistic plane, the Tea Party also supports making voting as difficult as possible for the people -- poor, of color, urban, etc. -- that it deems the "takers" who aren't reachable with conservatism.)

Anyway, running Tea Party candidates is an obviously fool thing to do in states that have been voting Democratic for the last several elections, which is why O'Donnell is a warning. But it works just fine in states where voters reflexively go Republican regardless of the candidate. So it's perfectly sensible to run Ted Cruz in Texas, because neo-McCarthyism isn't enough to keep a mostly Republican state from continuing to elect Republicans.

The Tea Party-fication of America inevitably leads to a balkanized nation where there are no moderate Republicans (like Mike Castle) left to be elected from blue states, because they've all been primaried out by Tea Party loons who are then defeated by Democrats, and no reason to elect moderate Republicans from red states because Tea Party loons are electable in those states.

Thekat said...

Democracy doesn't work. We should switch to a benevolent oligarchy for this reason. At least then something would get done, which I argue is better than the nothing that gets done because everyone is arguing and trying to make everyone else look bad.