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The Strange Political Culture of Today’s GOP


This is another of those columns that I’ve written with the mostly conservative readers of my area, in whose newspapers it is appearing, in mind.

It now seems clear that the Iran deal will stand. So when Speaker of the House John  Boehner declares, “Our fight to stop this bad deal, frankly, is just beginning,” we confront again the strange nature of the political culture that now drives the Republican Party.

It is strange in two related ways.

First, it seems to reject the fundamental principle of a democracy that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose but – so long as the political battle is conducted according to the rules governing the system — you respect the outcome.

Back when Jimmy Carter was president, we had a hard-fought battle over the Panama Canal Treaty, which surrendered American control over that important piece of real estate. Then, as now, the hawks fought hard against the treaty. Then, as now, they lost. But unlike now, when the battle was over, the losers accepted the outcome and moved on.

In the political game of our democracy, as in baseball, one always hope to win, and some losses are bitter, but one respects the game and understands that it’s about something bigger than anyone’s always coming out on top.

But today’s Republicans seem to reject that basic ethic.

Hardly has there been a harder fought political battle than that over the reform of America’s exorbitant and patchy health-care system. Eventually, after nearly two years of struggle, President Obama and the Democrats prevailed. It was close, but they won it fair and square.

Five years later, the Republicans have still not “moved on.” At the state level, they continue to try to sabotage the bill by refusing to expand Medicaid, despite the injury that refusal inflicts on their states’ people and economies. And of course they’ve voted more than fifty times in the House to repeal the act, even though there is not the slightest chance that these votes will accomplish anything.

Which points to the second remarkable aspect of this political culture on the right brought into focus by John Boehner’s comment to the effect that the fight will go on. It is a political culture that seems indifferent to whether or not a course of action will achieve beneficial results.

Does it matter to these House Republicans whether there’s any chance remains of undoing the Iran deal? Did it matter to them that there was no chance that the repeal of Obamacare would change the outcome of that long-lost political battle?  

Apparently not.

There is now a movement afoot among congressional Republicans to shut the government down over the question of federal funds for Planned Parenthood. It seems there’s virtually no chance that Planned Parenthood will be defunded. And the last time that the Republicans shut down the government in an attempt to blackmail their opponents into doing their will, it was a public relations disaster for the Republican Party.

Another such disaster is hardly what the Republicans need heading into a presidential election, as some Republican leaders have well understood. Yet here is a substantial Republican cohort (once again egged on by Senator Ted Cruz) heading energetically toward that same cliff.

Senator Cruz seems to have figured out that there can be political rewards for leading a course that is long on attitudes of belligerence and defiance even if it achieves nothing — and even much worse than nothing — for the people one is leading.

In a healthy political culture, leaders whose decisions and efforts bring great benefits to their people are honored, while those who lead their people into disaster live in infamy.

But not all political cultures work that way. Consider, for example, the strange case of the leadership that led the American South into the Civil War.

The Civil War was a catastrophe for the American South, bringing ruin and suffering and death upon their region. One would be hard put to find any American leaders whose decisions proved more disastrous for their people than those who chose secession and then chose to wage war to defend their secession.

Yet all over the South, those leaders – like Jefferson Davis — have been glorified ever since. Schools and roads have been named after them. Statues have been built to memorialize their asserted heroic greatness.

Whatever that political culture valued most highly, achieving good results clearly was not it. Now the same seems true of today’s Republican Party, whose base lies in that same region.

And how can one expect indifference to good results to lead to anything but damage to the nation?


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