The last four years have been especially insignificant in a legislative sense for the United States. While there has always been a perceived gamesmanship in politics between the two parties, the fact that a Republican controlled house butted heads with a Democrat controlled Senate compounded this gamesmanship and, after the 2010 midterms, produced gridlock in which we all lose. Why is Washington especially contentious now and where do we go from here?
Aside from the Affordable Care Act, the centerpiece of Barack Obamas first term, there has been little legislative progress over the course of the past four years. Unhappy with the method used by the President and both Democrat controlled chambers of Congress, a new faction of ultra-conservatives who had reservations about the size of government, perceived the Democrat advancement as threats to liberty, and were riled up by fear mongering and misinformation campaigns from conservative outlets, emerged to challenge the status quo. This new group called themselves the ‘Tea Party,’ and promised a new breed of conservatism to push back against the socialists from the Left, and caused the Republican Party to move further to the right. In the 2010 midterm elections, this new breed of conservatives won large chunks of seats in Congress, taking back the House majority and making significant gains in the Senate. The characteristics represented by these new Congressmen and women were limited government, reduced entitlements, less debt, free markets, and no compromise.
A major crossing of the rubicon on the last point about compromise was the Republican race for Senator in Indiana, where Richard Mourdock defeated long time Senator Richard Lugar. Mourdock represented this new breed of tea party conservatives, and Mourdock famously said that compromise in the US Senate would only happen if Democrats joined the GOP. Lugar had long been known as a Republican Senator capable of getting through partisan standoffs and finding bipartisan agreements that ultimately get things done. He was branded as not conservative enough and paired with Obama, something that immediately vilifies a politician in Tea Party circles, and Lugar was defeated.
The first major coup of the Tea Party was to use the debt ceiling issue as leverage for significant austerity to government programs, a move that is unparalleled in American history. For decades, the debt ceiling has been raised without question or comment, yet this new brand of conservatives saw holding hostage Americas good faith and credit as an opportunity to get concessions from the Obama administration. As we face the fiscal cliff, the Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is having trouble uniting both the establishment Republicans and these Tea Party conservatives behind a single message, a spectacular failure that was shown by Boehners own Plan B failing in the Republican controlled House. The Republicans aren’t alone in this shameful behavior. In the face of this fiscal cliff, both sides of resorted to finger pointing publicly so that, instead of finding a solution, we know who to blame after these austerity measures are triggered.
Where do we go from here? First, we mustn’t concede that this conservative movement is a rubicon. There is a point of return from this, it just takes an investment of effort from the electorate. It’s time for the Republican party to come back to the center and reinvent itself, and I’m not alone in this thought. Mark McKinnon, a former Bush and McCain aide stated;
“Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the party is against everything and for nothing.
Nothing on taxes. Nothing on gun control. Nothing on climate change. Nothing on gay marriage. Nothing on immigration reform (or an incremental, piece-by-piece approach, which will result in nothing). It’s a very odd situation when the losing party is the party refusing to negotiate. It may be how you disrupt, but it is not how you govern, or how you ever hope to regain a majority.
And so, we have a Republican Party today willing to eliminate any prospect for a decent future for anyone, including itself, if it cannot be a future that is 100 percent in accordance with its core beliefs and principles. That’s not governing. That’s just lobbing hand grenades. If you’re only standing on principle to appear taller, then you appear smaller. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes.”
I couldn’t agree more. Until this extreme, no compromise form of conservatism is suppressed and real conservatives with real ideas and real intent to create policy for the entire United States and not just their specific constituents emerge, we are going to face more gridlock and ultimately inaction. With the next series of midterms slated for 2014, think twice before skipping midterm voting. We need doers, not idealists.