Sunday, July 31, 2011

Republican Asymmetrical Warfare

I recently sent someone a link to Paul Krugman's July 28 column The Centrist Copout. My friend replied, disagreeing with Krugman. This is my reply to him:

You say, Michael, that Krugman is just calling the Republicans "hostage-takers, extortionists, blackmailers and extremists" in order to "besmirch the reputation of the people he disagrees with." To you these are just "loaded terms," examples of normal if deplorable political rhetoric. But Krugman didn't literally call anyone a hostage-taker or an extortionist (though he did refer to "Republican extremists.") The point of referring to extortion and blackmail was not to attack reputations but to characterize a tactic. You say this tactic is business as usual, just the normal application of political power. Krugman and I disagree.

If someone filibusters an appointment, it is because they don't want the appointment to go through. If the filibuster succeeds, they have achieved their goal. If the President threatens a veto unless legislation is altered to reflect his demands, it is because he doesn't approve of the law as drafted, so a veto would achieve his aim of preventing a bad law from being passed.

No one (except extremists like Ron Paul) thinks failing to raise the debt ceiling would be a good thing. The Republicans are threatening to do something that nobody wants done unless they get their way. They are using their power to inflict serious harm on the country in order to achieve a political goal they could achieve in no other way. This is not business as usual. On the contrary, I suspect it is unprecedented. (It certainly is with regard to the debt ceiling.) Can you think of another example in which one party openly threatened to harm the country unless its demands were met? 

I don't think even the Gingrich/Clinton government shutdown compares. The Republicans passed a budget they wanted. Clinton vetoed a budget he didn't want. Neither side used as a bludgeon the threat to do something nobody wanted, and no one could remedy once done, merely as a means to force the other side to concede.

It seems to me, a liberal, that applying this kind of leverage is not proper behavior in a civil society. Even though it is legal and may be effective, it is not a legitimate way of wielding power. Krugman could have justly used another loaded term: terrorism. It seems to me that there is a great deal in common between the absolutist mind-set of current American conservatives, especially Tea Partyers, and that of religiously-inspired terrorists who feel that their point of view is so right, and its opponents so wrong, that any means is justified to achieve their goals. The conservative point of view has been increasingly to view politics as warfare, and their political opponents as enemies. Isn't what we are witnessing now asymmetrical warfare inside the U.S. government? Which raises the question: Should the President give in to terrorist demands? Unfortunately, he seems determined to do so. I think this bodes ill for the country.

You might ask: if they be denied their most ruthless but effective tactic, how are conservatives to achieve their goals? I would say: if you want to make a radical change in government policy, you need to win the majority in more than one house of the legislature. Until you do that, the normal processes of democracy dictate compromise. The alternative of extortionist threats is like attempting a coup, in which one house grabs the levers of power for itself. That's not the way this republic was meant to operate.

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