If you’ve ever wondered why the Founders were so wary of political parties and factionalism, consider how dysfunctional American government would be if both major parties agreed to govern only when they controlled all of Congress and the White House. It’s impossible to say with certainty that National Review’s long game will fail. It’s conceivable that the GOP could retain Congress and win the White House in 2016, and that all the politicians now setting aside substance to focus on future electoral gains will suddenly become principled conservative legislators eager to improve America once a member of their party retakes the White House.
But come on.
Most politicians are inclined to delay or forgo the tough business of governing to preserve their electability. When encouraged to postpone governing until a later date by the very intellectuals who are supposed to be urging substantive results, the most likely result is that the long-anticipated time for actually governing will never arrive.
My own view is that this complete nihilism in terms of governing is actually quite emblematic of the most powerful forces in the GOP today. Fox News and the entire conservative media-industrial complex have no real interest in Republican governance. They thrive on conflict and on opposition. How many ratings-rich shows are they going to produce on tax reform? They have created an alternate cultural universe for the right where the craziest tub-thumpers get the most attention and where the boring, necessary act of governing is anathema. Ponnuru defends his magazine’s editorial:
It’s worth recalling that the Democrats, after taking Congress in 2006, did not announce en masse that they now needed “to prove they could govern.”
They cut a few deals with President Bush, but certainly did not base their political strategy on earning public support thereby. (They didn’t engage in a lot of veto showdowns, either, or base their strategy on that.) They did, more or less, what the editorial recommends: lay out their own approach on the main issues of the day and try to build support for a governing majority that could implement that approach.
Danny Vinik, for once, agrees with National Review:
Liberals are mocking the piece on Twitter, but the reasoning makes a lot of sense. If Republicans set high expectations for themselves, they are bound to fail. After all, Democrats can block legislation at will by using the filibuster. As we’ve seen from the past few years, the media will not report that Democrats blocked legislation that had support of more than 50 senators. They’ll report that Congress failed—and the blame will fall squarely on the GOP. Democrats learned this the hard way over the past few years.
So neither party should attempt anything until they control both House, Senate and White House? I’d say that if there is one categorical sentiment from Tuesday it is that voters want an end to that gamesmanship. I’m sorry but even though I can see the brutal logic of this politically, I refuse to acquiesce to the cynicism behind it. Drum’s take:
Republicans probably are better off doing nothing for the next two years except mocking President Obama and throwing out occasional symbolic bits of red meat to keep the rubes at bay. Usually, though, this is the kind of thing you talk about quietly behind closed doors. It’s a little surprising that we’ve gotten to the point where apparently this level of cynicism is so routine that no one thinks twice about spelling it out in public in explicit detail. Welcome to modern politics.
It’s a politics in which voters are denied the chance to compare varying responses to particular challenges and expect their representatives to reach an agreement. It’s a politics designed to make deliberative self-government close to impossible. It’s factionalism gone mad. Waldman sees no political incentives, in our current climate, for the GOP to govern:
The incentives for them to continue fighting Obama on anything and everything are everywhere. The strategy of maximal obstruction got them where they are today. Twenty-four Republican senators will be up for re-election in 2016, and every last one will be looking over their right shoulder, worrying about a primary challenge and knowing that the only way to avoid it is to be as venomous as possible in their opposition to Obama. And next year’s House will also become even more conservative than it is now, with the addition of a group of new Tea Partiers.
A Republican party in the flush of a sweeping victory isn’t exactly going to be looking for areas where it can dial back its demands. If someone would like to explain how a GOP caucus in Congress even farther to the right than the one whose antics we currently enjoy would be more inclined to compromise with Barack Obama than it is now, I’m all ears.
And the beat goes on.