GOP’s Three Biggest Fears in 2012
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As the 2012 presidential campaign takes a breather, we need to consider why today’s Republicans are no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt or Richard Nixon, but instead a truly toxic aberration.
As James Fallows noted a year ago in the Atlantic, the modern GOP’s biggest sin is discarding “political norms” that everyone once understood would hurt the country—such as not paying 74,000 federal air traffic controllers and construction workers to attack labor unions, a drama that played out last August.
Since then the GOP’s bad behavior has only worsened. In the introduction to their recent book, It’s Even Worse Than It Appears, centrists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote, “However awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”
Anyone who has been around a child throwing a temper tantrum would recognize the hallmarks of today’s congressional Republican leadership: threats and bullying, finger-pointing, and running to his room and slamming the door. It’s so transparent and it raises a basic question: what are they so afraid of? The answer is clear—losing power and influence in American politics and culture.
Today’s Republicans cannot compete fairly and win. And when it comes to political tactics, there are three things today’s GOP fears more than almost anything: majority votes in the U.S. Senate; national and state elections where all eligible citizens can vote; and revealing and standing by their top political donors in public.
Why do GOP partisans fear these three things? Because without gaming the rules in Congress, without limiting who votes in state and national elections, and without hiding their patrons from the American people, they know they’d lose—and lose badly.
Fear #1: Majority Rule in the Senate
A very revealing thing happened in Washington last week. On Wednesday, the Senate held two tax cut votes that were not blocked—filibustered—by Republicans. Both times, simple majorities voted to reinstate higher federal income tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. In any other decade, in any other economic downturn, this outcome would seem utterly predictable and common sense. But today’s anti-tax GOP is different.
The first vote rejected, 45-54, a GOP plan to extend all of the Bush-era income tax breaks. The second vote approved the Democrats’ tax plan, which would extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the first $250,000 Americans earn in a year (including the first $250,000 that billionaires rake in). Senate Republican leaders later said that they allowed the vote—not filibustering—because it would have no effect, as tax policy must originate in the House and that the GOP-controlled chamber would certainly reject it.
In most legislative bodies, simple majorities—50 percent plus one—is all that is needed to pass legislation. But not so in the Senate, where arcane rules allow endless debate, or filibusters, to continue unless there are 60 votes to end debate. The GOP increasingly has relied on that rule to block all kinds of Democratic proposals. Similarly, it has also relied on “holds” where senators can block nominations to federal posts, particularly judges.
Even the mainstream media has called the GOP’s abuse of the Senate filibuster rules a “road to gridlock.” That’s far too polite. As Wednesday’s tax cut vote amply showed, the ideas championed by Republicans are destined for defeat when they cannot hide behind parliamentary tricks and obscure super-majority votes.