Is the GOP Terminally Stupid?

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On October 8 I received an email from Representative Luke Messer, a Republican representing the 6th District of Indiana. Attached was a “constituent survey” that Rep. Messer wanted me to fill out and email back to his office. As the reader can perhaps guess, the survey sought my views on the government shutdown.

To the best of my recollection I have never been in the state of Indiana, much less the 6th Congressional district. I did fly over the state once, I think. In any case I can’t conceive why Rep. Messer would want the opinion of this New Englander on the government shutdown. The survey itself was framed in classic push-polling style, an attempt to draw from me the answers that Rep. Messer and his allies so want to receive from the public.

The Tea Partiers just don’t seem to understand that the country as a whole is not to the right of Rick Perry.

For the fun of it I did fill out and send back the survey. But the whole business only reinforced the impression that has been growing in my mind — that the GOP is incredibly and perhaps terminally stupid.

This impression was further reinforced by an AP dispatch from Washington dated October 12 and titled “During Shutdown, Congressional Pay Strikes a Nerve.” Quite a few Republican friends of the shutdown saw no problem about collecting their pay while it was going on. They gave no thought to donating their salaries or setting them aside for the duration. I quote from the dispatch:

When Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., was asked whether he’d continue to collect his paycheck during the government shutdown, he offered a defiant response: “Dang straight.”

Days later, a penitent Terry changed course, telling his hometown paper, the Omaha World-Herald, that he was “ashamed” of his comments and would have his salary withheld until furloughed government workers got paid again.

And Rep. Terry was hardly alone. The AP went on to quote several other Republican members moaning, “I need my paycheck,” until constituent anger forced them to backtrack. “[I put my] needs above others in crisis. I’m ashamed of my comments” said one.

These are the people who craft our laws. So devoid of common sense are they that they could not see the political incorrectness and moral turpitude of their words and actions. This is the GOP the Tea Party has given us. Apparently, the complete proletarianization of our politics is being realized — not, as one might have expected, by the Democrat Party, but by the GOP. The party of Wall Street and the country clubs has been taken over (or almost so) by petit bourgeois Babbitts.

Consider the Tea Party-driven strategy behind the government shutdown. It began as an attempt to defund Obamacare. When this provoked indifference or hostility among the majority of the electorate, the GOP sought to extract concessions in other areas of spending and entitlements. This looked like extortion to many observers, and polling showed that the public agreed. Rather than fold a losing hand, the Republicans upped the ante by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling, a much more chilling prospect for business leaders as well as average voters. The Republicans gave the Democrats one opening after another to demagogue the situation, and Obama and his minions proceeded to do so. As a result the Republican Party, both in Congress and out, has dropped to new lows in public approval. Over 40% of the Tea Party currently disapproves of the GOP, according to the latest Gallup poll.

The actual dangers threatened by the Republicans’ stand have been overstated by the media as well as the Democrats. The government shutdown has done very little harm to the nation as a whole, although depriving federal workers of pay is hardly fair and will, economists say, lead to a slowing of economic growth if the shutdown is prolonged. But one way or another, the government is eventually going to reopen, and the effects of the shutdown will pass.

The GOP threat not to increase the debt ceiling is a more serious matter, though not for the reasons Obama and Co. have put forward. Republicans in Congress have pointed out quite correctly that money coming into the Treasury every month exceeds the amount needed to pay the interest on the national debt. Despite Secretary of the Treasury Lew’s prediction that October 17 would bring financial Armageddon, there is no prospect of serious trouble before about November 1. Moreover, the US has actually defaulted on its debt at least twice in the past (once in 1814 when the British came close to making us a colony again, and then in 1979 when a fight over a balanced budget amendment led to a brief delay in the Treasury’s ability to redeem about $120 million in maturing T-bills) without the world coming to an end.

Yet the environment today is quite different from that of 1814, when we were not the linchpin of the world economy, or even 1979, before the era of globalization. As so often in economic affairs, it’s the psychology that matters. Loss of confidence in the US as the world’s rock of financial stability would almost certainly lead to panic in world markets. A prolonged crisis would likely cause the dollar to fall from its perch as the world’s reserve currency, and the effects of that would be felt in every American business and household. A global 2008 for which no bailout could be organized might follow. The result could be a years- or decades-long depression in the US and much of the world.

The scenario outlined above may or may not reflect the exact conditions a default would produce. But do we really want to find out? Certainly the vast majority of Americans are not willing to gamble their livelihoods on Republican assurances that a default would be no big deal.

And therein lies the absurdity of the GOP position. Senator Cruz’s crusade against Obamacare, which touched off the crisis, has morphed into a game of chicken threatening the stability of the world economy. This is a path few Americans want to tread. Recall that over 40% of Tea Party members¤tly disapprove of the GOP.

Within the last few days the Republicans have tried to say that they provoked the shutdown and debt ceiling fight in order to force the Obama administration to negotiate over spending cuts and entitlement reform. Had they actually started out with that line, they might have attained the moral and political high ground. But too late did they realize that this was the only possible way to justify shutting down the government and threatening to default on the national debt. Everyone knows how and why this contretemps actually began, and few are buying the new Republican line. Obama and the Democrats are winning the argument despite the weakness of their case.

Quite a few Republican friends of the shutdown saw no problem about collecting their pay while it was going on.

This Republican performance represents the quintessence of political stupidity. The Republicans have bungled a potentially winning hand into a losing one. They have inflicted enormous political damage on themselves for 2014. Whereas six months ago it seemed certain they would reclaim a majority in the Senate, that prospect now seems very dim. While they will almost certainly not lose control of the House, their majority may well shrink, with districts gerrymandered to provide small Republican majorities tipping Democratic. 2014 is beginning to look like 1998 all over again — but worse.

Ideologically the party has been split asunder, with the establishment wing further alienated from the far right faction. This makes its presidential prospects even more tenuous. If Ted Cruz is the nominee in 2016, establishment Republicans will stay home or vote for Hillary. If the candidate of the establishment, that is, Jeb Bush, runs and wins the nomination, many Tea Partiers will go rogue by not voting or perhaps even taking the third party route. The Tea Party mantra, on the morrow of Hillary’s landslide, will be that the GOP candidate was another Romney, i.e., not conservative enough. The Tea Partiers just don’t seem to understand that the country as a whole is not to the right of Rick Perry. Maybe they will get a nominee to their liking in 2020. Then, after he or she is crushed in that election, perhaps reason will prevail, and stupidity recede. Perhaps.

More than any other single person, Ted Cruz is responsible for the present fix the Republicans are in. He won his Senate seat by taking on the Republican establishment in Texas. But that establishment is too far right for most of the rest of the country. Cruz, who definitely wants to be president, has gained new prominence, not by reaching out to the center but by pandering to his Tea Party supporters. This may or may not be a good idea for someone seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2016 or 2020, but from a national perspective it amounts to political suicide.

The GOP, whose symbol is the elephant, faces, like the real animal, the danger of extinction. California, once a purple state, is now definitely blue. Florida, once a red state, is purple trending toward blue. Texas is still a red state, but demographic trends indicate that its future is purple and perhaps even blue. If and when Texas goes, the Republican Party will be finished nationally. Cruz, the Cuban-Canadian-American who was last seen hobnobbing with Sarah Palin on the National Mall, is doing nothing to prevent the GOP’s decline — indeed, he is accelerating it. By choosing the path of political stupidity he is leading the Republican Party to destruction.

The elephant, reputedly a highly intelligent animal, does not have the ability to save itself from extinction. The GOP is headed that way purely because it has become too stupid to recognize political realities.

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Comments

Visitor

The Republicans are the stupid party.
The Democrats are the evil party.
Been saying that for years.

Jon Harrison

Interesting thought. Please define "evil" or tell me why you think the Democrats are evil. I'm not defending them, but I can't really equate them with Stalin or Mao or Hitler.

Also, please provide your view on why the Republicans have become so stupid. They weren't always so. What happened, in your view?

Robert K Stock

While not the Original Poster, I think the GOP became the "Stupid" party when economic issues fell behind social issues as the main focus of the party. The influence of fundamentalist religion has destroyed the Republican party. That said, I still vote Republican because that is where the few remaining laissez-faire capitalists can be found.

I would not call the Democratic party "Evil", but since they are more socialist than the GOP they are more dangerous to individual freedom at the moment. However, I can easily imagine that many in both the Democratic and Republican party would have no qualms about putting people who disagree with their politics in re-education camps. For our own good of course.

Many Democrats want the finacially well off to make deep sacrifces and share their ill-gotten gains with the less fortunate. Many Republicans think that secular people should not be in any position to poison the rightminded thinking of the righteous with damnable ideas such as non-missionary position sex, abortion, and evolution.

An American Mao or Hitler is not such a far fetched possibility.

Jon Harrison

Thanks for the comment. I understand that the best evidence available indicates Mao was responsible for something like 80 million deaths. Do you really think it within the realm of possibility that an Americam leader might slaughter, say, 30 million of us for ideological reasons? My question is a serious one; I'm interested in what you may think about this.

Robert K Stock

I think the vast majority of Americans are easily manilpulated mindless masses. Give the condemned a label such as, "criminal traitor" or "domestic terrorist", and I have no doubt that the deaths of tens of millions of fellow Americans would not only be tolerated, but happily welcomed by the majority.

Robert K Stock

I really do think that it is possible that an American dictator could come to power and actually slaughter millions of Americans.

In Nazi-Germany the rank and file party members were not inhuman monsters like those at the top. Most Nazi party members were no different than the folks you will run into at any PTA meeting.

During China's Cultural Revolution young people were radicalized in the same way as many American young people are radicalized at college.

The famous behavioral science experiment were students were led to believe they were giving dangerously high levels of electric shock should have been the last word on wether Americans are capable of killing other Americans IF they thought it was expected by those in authority.

During my 15 years as a Jehovah's Witness (1973-1988) I saw that parents will let their own children die by refusing blood transfusions rather than disobey what those in authority told them was God's will.

During the Depression a military coup was planned against FDR, but the proposed head of the new government General Smedley Butler, turned in the conspirators. A popular contemporary book turned into a movie "Gabriel Over the Whitehouse" relfected the widespread belief that America needed a strong man to lead the US out of crisis.

During the 1960's I saw radical young Americans at war with the Establishment. They rioted, detonated bombs, and set fire to many US cities.

Those very people and that type of thinking have not gone away. One good crisis and most Americans will beg for a Dictator. They will gladly do what ever those in authority tell them, no matter how heinous.

Robert K Stock

I apologize for the typos in my posts. I quickly wrote out my thoughts without any editing.

Hastiness is a character flaw that I am striving to overcome. As you might guess, I usually rely heavily on spell check.

I hope you overlook my grammatical errors and focus on the ideas expressed.

Jon Harrison

I did ignore any typos or other errors, and focused on the ideas expressed.

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