Ezra Klein made an interesting point in an article at Vox today, Why the President Becomes More Powerful When Congress Fails. It is a push back against Ross Douthat’s recent widely mocked column where he complains about the presidential overreach that he thinks Obama is going to perform. Klein noted that Douthat is right that congressional inaction doesn’t tell the president what to do, but it also doesn’t tell the president what not to do. Congress is dysfunctional and part of that dysfunction is that it can’t really stop the president from acting.
Implicit in Klein’s article is the idea that Congress actually wants the President to do things that it thinks it can’t be seen doing. Or to put it more correctly: Republicans want Obama to do things that in a saner world, the Republicans want to be and would be able to do. This is a critical issue that we saw very clearly last week when John Boehner called for Obama to address the border crisis through executive action at the very same time that Boehner was also suing Obama for dealing with a problem with Obamacare with executive action.
This gets to the great (And poetic!) Mario Cuomo quote, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” The big problem, at least since Obama became President, is that Republican politicians are no longer willing to abide by this. So in the House right now, the majority of the Republican majority are not willing to take 98% of what they want. That missing 2% would destroy the meter of the verse. And, of course, missing 50% would be totally unacceptable—the poetry would be unrecognizable.
But I think the Republican Party establishment really has to take responsibility for this. The truth is that it has nothing to worry about. The party is now well to the right of its base when it comes to actual policy. But the party establishment has allowed itself to be radicalized by the likes of the subgeniuses Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes. Watching the House Republicans, all I see is weakness. It looks like a caucus that is so afraid, that it is unable to do anything. Their base is mad about the border situation, but they can’t do anything, because they’ve become certain they were sent to Washington to destroy the federal government. These are the same people who represent states who get far more from the federal government than they send to it.
So the question is, when is the Republican Party going to make a stand? As it is, the only difference between the “establishment” and the “tea party” candidates are how extreme their rhetoric is. There is no discernible difference in their policies. But the party insists upon treating their voters as though they were children. They continue to allow this idea to fester that through force of will alone, they can have 100% of what they want. But they know that the base doesn’t actually want what they claim, and that if the party actually did what they said they were going to, it would be a catastrophe.
And we are left with the situation that Ezra Klein wrote about where the hated Obama has far more power than if the Republicans would just start acting like a normal political party.
Update (5 August 2014 11:33 pm)
I just noticed that Bernstein had exactly the same reaction to Ezra Klein’s article that I did, Republican Heal Thyself. Of course, he does it in his own (non-ranting) professional style: