Ross Douthat is disgusted with the folks he calls "the Kurtz Republicans":
"THEY told me," Martin Sheen's Willard says to Marlon Brando's Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now," at the end of a long journey up the river, "that you had gone totally insane, and that your methods were unsound."Douthat sees no justification for what they've done:
His baldness bathed in gold, his body pooled in shadow, Kurtz murmurs: "Are my methods unsound?"
And Willard -- filthy, hollow-eyed, stunned by what he's seen -- replies: "I don't see any method at all, sir."
This is basically how reasonable people should feel about the recent conduct of the House Republicans.
... Every sensible person, most Republican politicians included, could recognize that the shutdown fever would blow up in the party's face. Even the shutdown's ardent champions never advanced a remotely compelling story for how it would deliver its objectives. And everything that's transpired since, from the party's polling nose dive to the frantic efforts to save face, was entirely predictable in advance.The Clinton impeachment? You mean the one that House Republicans went ahead with despite losing seats in the 1998 midterms precisely because the public didn't want Clinton impeached? The one they went ahead with even though there were never going to be enough votes in the Senate to convict? That wasn't methodless, and this is?
The methodless madness distinguishes this shutdown from prior Congressional Republican defeats (the Gingrich shutdown, the Clinton impeachment), when you could at least see what the politicians involved were thinking.
Of course, they did that and won (or "won") the 2000 presidential election anyway, while holding on to the House and Senate. So maybe there really was a method to that madness: Al Gore and the rest of the Democratic Party were punished for the sexual sins of Bill Clinton.
And maybe there's a method to the current madness as well. Yes, I know that right now the negotiations in Washington involve Senate Democrats' insistence that the sequester cuts be rethought. Yes, I know that's a sign that Republicans have not only utterly failed to stop or slow down Obamacare, they're losing ground, while Democrats are pursuing an end to the sequester as a possible big win.
But I fear what Steve Benen fears:
... even if [senators] reached some sort of resolution, it may not matter, since House Republicans still appear to be in a sociopathic mood, and may simply reject anything that emerges from the upper chamber, no matter the consequences.So I'm rooting for Senate Democrats, but I worry that they can't get their "big win" through the House, and meanwhile they're going to be portrayed as tax-and-spend liberals, so their current efforts will actually lose them some of the public goodwill (or relative lack of bad will) they've recently gained, because the public is so conditioned (by mainstream pundits as much as by right-wingers) to hate spending.
Back to Douthat:
... The trends that brought us to this point are clear enough: the discrediting of the Republican establishment during the Bush era; the rise of a populist right that often sees opposition as an end unto itself; the willingness of too many media figures, activists and politicians to stoke that wing's worst impulses....Was there a "discrediting of the Republican establishment during the Bush era"? Not on the right. Oh, sure, right-wingers will swear to you that they always thought Bush was an excessive spender and that military adventurism flies in the face of what they always believed, but they're lying. They loved what he did until it was clear that it wasn't working and wasn't keeping the hated Democrats at bay (i.e., until the 2006 midterm results came in).
And the populist right didn't "rise" on its own -- it was cultured, like something in a Petri dish, by right-wing operatives (in Kochville and Murdoch Land) as a means of rebranding the same old GOP after the 2008 elections.
... Kurtz Republicanism isn't likely to go away until somebody else within the party -- someone with more movement credibility than the speaker, and more subtlety and vision than Ted Cruz -- figures out how to take the energy driving the shutdown and redirect it to more constructive ends.Wow, that's delusional. I'm sorry, but the crazies don't have "hostility to K Street and Wall Street." The teabag base cheered when Citizens United came down. Baggers in and out of office sing the praises of Ayn Rand. They're not anti-corporate, they just regard themselves as more pro-corporate than the corporate popes, as it were.
... Republicans need to seek a kind of integration, which embraces the positive aspects of the new populism -- its hostility to K Street and Wall Street, its relative openness to policy innovation, its desire to speak on behalf of Middle America and the middle class -- while tempering its Kurtzian streak with prudence, realism, and savoir-faire.
And the "new populism" may seem to "speak on behalf of Middle America and the middle class," but only Middle Americans and members of the middle class who have no needs whatsoever that can be filled by the government (Medicare and Social Security recipients excepted), or by unions. Unemployed? Disabled? Laid off because you were a teacher or a firefighter? Forced to take big benefit cuts because you're in the latter categories? Then, to these so-called new populists, you're a leech, a "taker." The teabag crazies may have eyed Mitt Romney warily, but when he talked about "the 47 percent," they thought he was speaking truth to power.
Think of the way that Barack Obama, in his post-2004 ascent, managed to channel the zeal of the antiwar left without being defined by its paranoid excesses, and you can see a recent model for how this kind of integration might work.Oh, yeah, right -- remember the insane, over-the-top radicalism of "net-roots-funded" candidates like ... er, Ned Lamont? Wow, he was almost as crazy as Cruz, wasn't he? And Howard Dean, whose point was that ... um, the Iraq War was bad? And that all the problems Americans faced in Iraq wouldn't instantly vanish once Saddam Hussein died? What an extremist!
But then imagine an alternate reality in which figures like Joe Lieberman and John Kerry were stuck trying to lead a Democratic Party whose backbenchers were mostly net-roots-funded fans of Michael Moore, and you have a decent analog for where the post-Bush Republicans have ended up.
I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. I guess I'm still having trouble seeing current events as likely to lead to a good end. And I guess I still think Ross Douthat is frequently kind of an idiot.