One outcome of the government shutdown is that it exposed a huge rift in the Republican Party. There’s one side that holds conservative principles and beliefs and wants to turn those principles and beliefs into policy through the American political process. Then there’s the other side that just wants to burn the house down. These two sides are going to have to battle it out for control of the Party and I think that’s a good thing. Go below the fold for more.
Today’s environment encourages blatant dishonesty from Republican pundits, candidates, and politicians. The nature of the Party is that there are a solid 25%-35% of their members who will believe anything derogatory about a Democratic opponent no matter how outlandish, aided by a lazy media who says it’s not their job to identify and correct lies. From the Disaster from Alaska supporting or making statements that Obama is a “Taliban Muslim Illegally Elected President” that “pals around with terrorists,” to the late Andrew Breitbart (who was assassinated to protect Obama according to Michael Savage) who unapologetically released selectively edited video to make false charges against Democrats (ACORN and Shirley Sherrod), to where we are now.
We’ve reached the point now where the lies are coming from a sizeable portion of the Republicans in Congress. There have always been one or two rogue nutcases in Congress like Dan Burton, but they were lone wolves who nobody took seriously. Today, this behavior has become mainstream within the Republican Party. It is clearly demonstrated by the likes of Darrell Issa and his witch-hunts over the IRS and Benghazi. Taking a page from Breitbart’s book, he has directed investigations and selectively edited witness statements to show the exact opposite of what actually happened. Issa has no regard for the truth; his only objective is to do everything he can to bring down the President. We have a sizeable minority of Republicans in Congress who outright question Obama’s citizenship or take the sly stance of not really being sure about it.
Now we have the non-stop lies about the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare). The Republican Party’s goal was to ensure Obama had no policy success with the ACA and their tactic was to lie. Death panels, stealing money from Medicare, to exploding increases in insurance premiums, the Republicans have tried everything they can to make the ACA fail, even at the expense of the American people. Republican-controlled states have abandoned the principle of state control by refusing to establish their own health insurance exchanges, ceding that authority to the federal government. Republicans have now crossed the line from trying to destroy the law to actively harming constituents. Some elected representatives have refused to help constituents find health insurance. Almost half of the states have refused to expand Medicare, leaving over 5 million people without health insurance.
The outcome of the Republican misinformation campaign is that people are developing beliefs about the ACA that are hurting them. In a recent article, Salon’s Eric Stern followed up with three couples who appeared on Fox News’ Hannity and claimed they were being hurt by the ACA.
I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster; but none of them had even visited the insurance exchange. And some of them appear to have taken actions (Paul Cox, for example) based on a general pessimistic belief about Obamacare. He’s certainly entitled to do so, but Hannity is not entitled to point to Paul’s behavior as an “Obamacare train wreck story” and maintain any credibility that he might have as a journalist.
Strangely, the recent shutdown was based almost entirely on a small percentage of Congress’s belief that Obamacare, as Ted Cruz puts it, “is destroying America.” Cruz has rarely given us an example of what he’s talking about. That’s because the best he can do is what Hannity did—exploit people’s ignorance and falsely point to imaginary boogeymen.
At some point, people who consider themselves Republicans are going to realize that the driving forces in the Party do not have their best interests at heart. The recent government shutdown was nothing more than a blatant demonstration of this fact. Both Heritage and Ted Cruz admitted after it was all over that they knew all along that there was no way to repeal or defund the ACA until the presidential election in 2016, yet a small portion of the Republican Party still believe everything that comes out of their mouths. The other part of the GOP constituency is starting to see that these radicals are leading them down the path of destruction.
What remains now is to see what direction the Party takes. The 2014 midterm elections will be a pretty good indicator as we’ll see if the Nihilists get nominated. If they are, they will likely win in the gerrymandered safe districts, resulting in even more divisiveness in government. On the other hand, we may see the sensible wing of the Party getting involved in primaries and shutting out the extremists. That would put the Party on a path to greater electoral success at the national level, but risks splitting it with the Nihilists forming their own third party. In the long run, that new party will die, but it will greatly damage the GOP for a long time. Personally, I hope the grown-ups in the GOP put an end to the Tea Party faction quickly and permanently. It will be better for our country as a whole.