Republican death spiral?
People are already judging the Republicans based on what has transpired in the last week or so. James Joyner, who I admire a lot, has written an excellent piece over at Outside the Beltway. The problem he addresses is the issue of the Republicans being either obstructionist, or perceived as obstructionist, by not supporting some Obama policies. His main point is:
As I have opined before, the Democratic message will essentially be one of two things in 2010:
1. Obama’s accomplished X, Y and Z and showed the country the way forward, let’s give him leaders in Congress who can continue to deliver for the middle class, or,
2. Obama accomplished X, but he couldn’t accomplish Y and Z because the Republicans obstructed those measures to protect the special interests … let’s put partisanship behind us and elect leaders in Congress who can represent the common good.
One can understand the Republicans betting against #1, which won’t work unless the economy recovers. But in so doing, they seem to be writing the Democrats’ taglines for them on #2, the partisanship message. Of course, this is not necessarily an easy hand for the Democrats to play: they at once have to maintain the continued pretense/appearance of bipartisanship while at the same time attacking them for their non-cooperation.
Now, that is pretty much a given. That’s what Nancy Pelosi has basically done for the last decade. Blame everything on the Republicans. Even when she was in charge of Congress, she still blamed everything on Republicans. Needless to say, she had a massive assist from most media. However, that only works when people perceive her to be the underdog. She, read Democrats, can no longer blame any result on Republicans. They are the minority. So, to me, simply making the argument for #2 above only matters based on the outcome of the policy and a lot of luck. James goes on to add a chart of how policy, party, and outcome intertwine:
|Republican Vote||Policy Outcome||Political Result|
|Yes||Good||Obama Gets Credit, Republicans Nothing|
|Yes||Bad||Obama Gets Cover, Republicans Nothing|
|No||Good||Obama Gets Credit + Issue, Republicans Lose|
|No||Bad||Obama Gets Excuse, Republicans Get Issue|
The issue I have with that is that it’s just too simple. You can’t take every single policy/vote and simply lump it into an outcome and result based purely on the result. The example I cited was the current stimulus package. Initially, the whole world was for it. It had to be done. The economy was going to completely tank if it wasn’t done. Voting against it would be “bad” since the policy was “good”. However, as time has passed and people have had a chance to see the real thing, it’s not looking quite as good. There’s a lot of goofball pork in it. The people receiving previous bailouts are abusing them. The economy has only gotten worse since the previous bailout. These blank checks just aren’t looking quite as sweet. So, whereas a week ago this vote would have fallen into perception-wise row #3 with the Republicans handing the Democrats an issue for 2010, it’s now looking a lot more like row #4. Additionally, based on the previous bailout results, I think it’s already #4 and was the whole time sans media pressure. Which leads to the more important issue with this to me. Each issue represents a different moral tangent. Some issues will be ideologically neutral, others will fall squarely into the liberal versus conservative arena. What the Republicans can not afford to do with a media annointed saviour is abandon their core principals. If they do this, they cease to exist. On those neutral issues, like naming post office buildings and such, show some cooperation. But, if it’s obviously a liberal policy, oppose the hell out of it. Then, a new row evolves in James’ matrix, Obama gets issue, Republicans get cover.
There is a ton of gun control legislation evolving right now. This will be the perfect storm for my scenario. Protecting people from gun related crime is “good”. Dicking around with the Constitution to a lot of people is “bad”. So, where on the matrix does this issue fall? The media I’m sure will love Obama’s plan to rid the country of firearms. However, a huge majority of common people will be very uncomfortable I’m sure with losing a civil right. It will be an issue that will be painted as “good” by MSNBC, CBS, CNN, and the like, but will polarize the conservatives. If a Republican supports the legislation, they will be crucified regardless of how popular Obama is.
So, I don’t think the political scene is nearly as simple and neat as James, and a lot of people, want it to be. Whether the Republicans like it or not, they are now the minority party not because of how popular the Democrats have suddenly become. They are the minority party because when they were the majority, they forgot what they represented. Now, is not the time to worry about pandering to a popular president, it’s time to re-establish what their party represents. If they don’t, they will cease to exist until they do regardless of whether they are considered obstructionists or not.