Test Bed For Gridlock?

by on July 19, 2017 in Politics

We all complain about the gridlock in Washington. Nothing, it seems, can get done. Everyone becomes more and more cynical and disenchanted with government. Our belief and faith in our key democratic institutions plummets. And so on. That’s the story repeated relentlessly in the media.

So wouldn’t it be nice if we could examine a microcosm of that gridlock, tease it apart, and expose its inner workings to see what the problem is. We would then have a small laboratory version of the whole to poke and prod under our microscope.

Well, guess what? We have just such a sliver. It’s called the Republican Senate Caucus. Let’s get cracking and take a look.

First, let’s establish the problem we are trying to solve.

Gridlock is our government’s inability to govern. Or, more precisely, to put into law the things that we out here in the hinterland of voter-dom want to see done. Yes, I know that the notion of voter homogeneity is ridiculous. The country is deeply divided on what ought to get done, so, to some extent, the lack of anything actually being done is welcome. It stops one side or the other from getting a raw deal. Gridlock is akin to trench warfare. There’s an awful lot of smoke and fury at election time, after which not much legislative territory has changed hands. Instead we all sit back exhausted and plan, however reluctantly, for the next major battle.

This time is different. Why? Because the Republicans own the entire legislative process from beginning to end. They can, in theory, do whatever they want. Indeed, last November they were jumping for joy at the prospect of unified government. They were energized, enthused, positively giddy, and triumphant. Now, they shouted to all and sundry, is our chance to enact a truly conservative set of policies.

Their first and most iconic target?


Well here we are mired once more in gridlock. The trenches are filled with exhausted foot soldiers. The casualties are mounting. There are distinct rumblings of discontent in the ranks. The generals are being called buffoons. Their leadership is being visibly called into question. Failure upon failure is sapping morale. Worst of all: not a single yard of territory has been gained. Obamacare is still the law of the land. Its citadel is still untouched. Seven long years of promise produced nothing. Six long months of legislative siege have produced even less.

And this gridlock is the product entirely — exclusively — of the internal arguments within the Republican party.

This has nothing to to do Democrats.

It has nothing to do with our convoluted constitutionally belabored legislative process.

It has nothing to do with anything other than the party in power.

Which is a party that cannot muster its fifty-two Senators to stand together on what has been the most important issue ever according to its leadership.

Actually it didn’t even need fifty-two. It could have managed with just fifty and used the Vice-President’s vote as the decider.

So here we are in national legislative gridlock, not because of partisan bickering, not because of cultural or economic divisions on the country, and not because of the novelty of the issue at hand. No. We are in gridlock because fifty-two people cannot agree amongst themselves on a topic they all keep telling us is something they really want to deal with.

Never again should the media refer to partisan gridlock. Those days are over. We have exposed, in our little microcosm experiment, where the nation’s problems lie.

The Republican party has always been a coalition of disparate parts. Its unity has been paper thin for a long time now. The constant drumbeat of “tax cuts for the wealthy” has been the cement that held the rickety structure together. The cultural issue-driven conservatives, the libertarians, the corporate apologists, and even the few remaining old time moderates could all rally behind tax cuts.

What they could not rally behind was slashing healthcare for millions of people in order to deliver yet one more tax cut for the rich.

It was a tax cut too far.

All that time yelling and screaming about Obamacare was a hollow sham. None of the Republican leaders seem to have spent any time working their caucus to build an alternative. This is astonishing. Did they really think “repeal” was viable? Did Ryan or McConnell ever stop to think through what a healthcare bill has to have in it? Why were they not planning carefully for their attack? Did they think they would never be in charge? Are they that defeatist?

They became a party with no substance to back up its rhetoric. They became a party of permanent opposition and thus untethered from having to have alternative policies at the ready. Both Ryan and McConnell readied themselves to be, and prospered in being, naysayers. They never prepared to govern.

Their caucus took their lead. Heaping ridicule on Obama took the place of policy argument. Outright opposition took the stead of thoughtful critique. The radical right wandered even further right in an unmoored exploration of idealist fantasy, solving every world problem by exclaiming the virtues of free markets apparently oblivious to what the workings of a free market might be. The so-called House Freedom Caucus rose to great power because Ryan never reined it in — he’s a closet member anyway — and never thought to water down its ideological extremities as preparation for power.

In the Senate, once McConnell declared war on Obama within minutes of the latter’s victory in 2008, the scene was set for sterile parliamentary maneuvering as a replacement for thought. McConnell is regarded as a master of Senate rules and practice. He is clearly in the shallow end of policy making. He needs to stay in the shallow end. He nearly drowned when he set out to swim in the deep end to draft an alternative to Obamacare.

This exposure of the manifest divisions within the Republican party — recall that we are talking about a mere fifty-two people — gives us a clear source of our national malaise. Gridlock in Washington exists because our two party system is actually many more parties kluged together in an anachronism. They need to be set free.

In times of great change such as ours, when both society at large, and the economy specifically, are undergoing massive re-drawing of institutions, are shaking off tried and true traditions whilst trying on new replacements; while the influence of money and corporate lobbying stifle the expression of voter sentiment and allow the surge of enormous privilege to a very small part of society. And while demographic shifts alter the very nature of the electorate that seeks representation in  Congress, it is not surprising that our old two party alignment no longer fit the political landscape.

We need new political parties.

We just saw why. One of our old ones cannot solve a problem it regarded as iconic. Gridlock reins, not between our political parties, but within them. Yes this is a moment of great partisan division and conflict, but the strife is internal to the parties. The external conflict between them pales into weak skirmishing by comparison.

In short: the Republicans gridlocked themselves.

Now what?

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