Republican Delusion Empowers Obama

Ezra KleinEzra 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:

So, yes, what’s happening in Congress is absolutely bad for Congress, and bad for the US political system. But it’s not really about Congress, or even about partisan polarization; it’s yet another consequence of a broken Republican Party.
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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Republican Delusion Empowers Obama

  1. I think my favorite sentence in the Douthat column was this: "Presidents are granted broad powers over foreign policy, and they tend to push the envelope substantially in wartime. But domestic power grabs are usually modest in scope, and executive orders usually work around the margins of hotly contested issues."

    Stone nonsense. Presidents aren’t "granted" broad powers in wartime. Presidents have taken those powers and dared the country to say "boo." (The country, of course, does not say "boo," because we do love a good spot of war.) For a conservative to be outraged over presidential power is ridiculous. Dick Cheney’s whole career has been based on the idea that Nixon should never have been impeached, as presidents should be able to do what they damn well please.

    It’s like pretending the Supreme Court carefully weighs the meaning of the Constitution, then just happens to change that meaning every few years. Nonsense. The Court makes the rulings it wants to make based on what it imagines the public will tolerate. We have something of an agreed-upon shared delusion that good Presidents, and good Supreme Court rulings, somehow bow in obeisance to to the Constitution (which Adams handily broke with the Alien and Sedition act.) That Dred Scott really violated the spirit of the thing, and Brown-vs.-Board upheld it. Really, both rulings represented how far the Court felt it could go at the time. And so do presidential executive orders.

    If, in fact, the Obama people are considering a general amnesty for immigrants, that cheers me up immensely. They probably won’t do it, but the idea that they have tossed around the notion and most Americans have not said "boo" suggests that Americans, despite all evidence to the contrary, do have a glimmer of a soul. It’s pretty to think so!

  2. @JMF – Absolutely right. This is why I went ballistic at the time when Roberts gave his "balls and strikes" comment. That was so clearly disingenuous, but it sounded good to the folks at home. And of course, it went right along with what all conservatives believe as a matter of faith: liberal judges distort the law and conservative judges just interpret it. It’s all hogwash. (And note: Roberts has shown himself to be more calculating than any justice I’ve ever seen; he clearly knows that the Court is in real danger of losing any validity with the people. And let’s not forget: Jackson just ignored what the Court said–wrongly, of course–and if we wanted to, we could change the Constitution and fire all of them.)

    If Obama were one-tenth as liberal as conservatives claim, he’d be ten times as good a president. I’m still trying to figure out how Obama is supposed to be some extremist president when all of his policies were originally proposed by Republicans, and would have been fine with Republicans if only Obama had been nice enough to have run for president as a Republican.

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