Ideological Purity Stops Reps From Governing

Jonathan ChaitThis morning, Jonathan Chait noted that the era of the “reasonable Republican” did not last long, Conservatives: Let’s Prove We Can Govern by Shutting Down the Government and Impeaching Obama. Basically, the party tried to hide its kooks in the basement, but that isn’t working out too well. It is one thing to get Joni Ernst to not talk about the coming black helicopters while trying to get power. It is quite another to shut up the loonies once they have power. As Chait put it, “[I]t is already clear, just days after the election, that contrary to the fondest hopes of Boehner and McConnell, the kooks will not be going quietly.”

The biggest problem is that Obama insists on doing things and generally acting like he’s still president. And this is what I find so interesting. In 2008 and 2012, the Republicans were quite right to dismiss calls for them to change and work with the Democrats because of the “mandate” from the people. But in 2010, right after the election, Republicans everywhere were calling for no work to get done with the lame duck Congress. And even though they did not control the Senate or the White House, they thought that the Democrats should just kneel before them because they had won the most recent election.

Similarly, this election we’ve heard two things. First is the fairy tale that the Republicans are going to “govern” — as though people in the minority can’t govern. The same thing that stopped them from governing then will stop them now: they don’t have complete power to do exactly what they want. As it was, in 2011, Obama showed himself to be such a feckless negotiator that the Republicans got almost everything they wanted and still the crazies would not go along. Now they think they really have all the power. So in 2011, 98% wasn’t good enough. What is it today? Is 99.999999% of what they want not good enough?

What we see from Republicans is this hypocritical oscillation. When they win an election, they think they should be in charge, even though the United States government is not set up that way. When they lose, they yield not an inch. And this is a problem. Politics is not an art form. Perfection is never a possibility. So it is always a matter of making the best of a situation. That would normally mean accepting minor gains when you don’t have power and major gains when you do. But with the Republicans we get only a grand scheme that looks toward a day when they will have all the power and be able to realize the perfection of their vision. This is the danger of ideology and most often it leads to authoritarianism.

The Republicans can deal with their current situation well or poorly. The problem is that a great many of them have been sold a bunch of nonsense. One of the most common things that conservatives think is that politics is about the will. If only they stick to their principles, all obstacles will crumble. And it doesn’t matter how much power they actually have. Will Obama’s executive actions cause them to harm themselves? Very possibility. But it is important to remember that it is their addiction to ideological purity that stops them from being effective at their jobs. Sadly, it is also what makes them extremely dangerous when they do get complete control of Washington.

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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.

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