News & Politics

GOP Shock Doctrine: What Gov't Shutdown And Other GOP Assaults on Democracy Are Really All About

Like the Right's assault on public sector workers, none of this has anything to do with the budget.

The Republicans' imminent threat to shut down the government, the right's assault on public workers, its spending- and tax-cap proposals, the successful campaign to shut down ACORN and attempts now underway to defund Planned Parenthood and NPR and, most prominently, Paul Ryan's plan to dismantle Medicare all have one thing in common: they're about entrenching conservative ideological preferences in the law in ways that future legislators will have a hard time undoing.

All of these efforts are ultimately about subverting democracy, which is, for the right, they're non-negotiable.

Conservative policies don't poll well, and the movement took a thumping in 2006 and 2008. Looking forward, the Republicans see their party sailing into some powerful demographic headwinds. Their true base are married white Americans who identify themselves as Christian, and that group is in a free-fall decline in the American electorate.

Conservatives have always done a better job playing the “long game,” and they have their eyes set on a future in which majorities will be harder to come by. Thanks to a moribund economy, the Tea Party swept into Congress and state-houses across the country, and they want to take the opportunity to grab the prize while they can – restructuring government in a way that will endure beyond a single election. It's the Shock Doctrine at work, complete with trumped up deficit “crisis” as the Right's cassus belli.

The government appears headed toward a shutdown, but the sticking point is not the budget – Democrats have already caved to most of the GOP's fiscal demands. At issue today are two riders on which the GOP won't budge. The first would defund Planned Parenthood in order to deny low-income women a source of publicly funded healthcare. The second would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. These things could potentially be restored by a future Congress, but, politically, it's always more difficult to do so – in an inevitable battle with the religious right and energy lobbyists, respectively – than it is to maintain the status quo.

Consider the midnight shenanigans the GOP used to ram Scott Walker's atrocious union-busting bill through the Wisconsin legislature. Collective bargaining rights could potentially be restored by a future legislature, but labor, once defanged, would have no clout to bring to that battle.

The big picture here is a battle over structural advantages. The Democrats are looking at favorable demographic changes, and the Republicans are banking on having a significant, permanent cash advantage thanks to the Citizens United decision. Entrenching their policies in ways that are difficult to reverse is part of that structural battle.

This is a lesson learned in California, where a rump conservative minority has been able to exercise an effective veto since Proposition 13 passed in the late 1970s.

Just as they always wrap their proposals in pleasant vagaries to avoid debating their outcomes, this is what one must do when one is pushing unpopular ideas in a democracy.

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Election 2018