© Josh Sager – November 2012
The current Republican Party has become the party of no…no compromise, no facts, no compassion and no shame. This modern incarnation of the Republican Party is so extreme and partisan, that it no longer resembles the Republican Party of the 20th century—it is as if the John Birch Society (well known for their belief that water fluoridation was a soviet mind-control program) swallowed the party and replaced it as the new “mainstream” right wing.
In the last few years, the Republicans have given up all pretense of making factual arguments or compromises with other ideologies and has pursued an extreme—and often not based in reality—policy path. All politicians who deviate from this strict ideology have been (or soon will be) purged from the party and replaced with a strain of “Tea Party” right winger.
The new Republican Party orthodoxy gives up all compassion and adopts a domestic agenda that combines the social policy of the right wing evangelical movement and the economic policies of Ayn Rand. Any attempt to help the poor or invest in the infrastructure of the United States (except in military spending) is seen as blasphemy and is often answered by a primary challenge from a candidate that will toe the party line.
In the face of the massive changes that the Republican Party has gone through, relatively few people are willing to acknowledge this change. While it is true that Joe Biden expressed described this change very well when he said that “this isn’t your father’s Republican Party”, those in the media who are supposed to report on our politics have staunchly refused to acknowledge that the party has made such a monumental change. Despite the party-wide purging of moderates from the Republican Party through primary challenges against any Republican who is willing to reach across the aisle (ex. Richard Mourdock winning the primary against Richard Lugar in Indiana), there has been a virtual blackout on discussion of this phenomenon.
Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, the Republican Party has engaged in an unprecedented and total campaign of obstruction. Through refusing to cooperate with any of President Obama’s initiatives or even sustain any of the normal legislative upkeep that is usually non-partisan (ex. the debt ceiling), the Republicans have brought the legislative process to a virtual halt.
In the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions, the Republican Senate engaged in an unprecedented amount of filibusters. This abuse of the filibuster (a refusal to vote unless cloture is met through 60 votes) imposed a de-facto super-majority requirement on all legislation to be suggested by the democrats. As the Democrats only had 59 votes for most of these legislative terms (Al Frankin wasn’t confirmed for months after the election and then Ted Kennedy became ill and had to leave), they were unable to break the Republican filibuster blockade.
As this graph shows, the filibuster had become more common since the early 90s, but the Republicans nearly doubled its use during Obama’s first term (the 111th congress was elected in 2008).
After the 2010 election, the Republicans took over the House of Representatives and expanded its obstruction beyond the abuse of the filibuster. With control over the House, the Republican Party was able to kill virtually all Democratic legislation, and even compel the Democrats in the Senate Executive branch to make concessions (ex. the debt ceiling “deal”). By refusing to do anything, regardless of the consequences to the country, without first extracting concessions, the Republican majority in the House engaged in a very dangerous game of political blackmail—very dangerous to the public, yet very beneficial to the Conservative agenda.
Through maintaining an extremely powerful party unity, the Republicans in the legislature have stalled the process of lawmaking and have obstructed the Democrats in implementing their agenda; any attempts at reaching across the aisle are met with derision by the right wing, and isolation for any Republican who even hints at moderating their positions. The current Republican Party refuses to compromise and will only deal with the Democrats if the Democrats preemptively concede huge portions of the debate and promise not to ask the Republicans to agree to things that they don’t support; at this point, the Republican idea of “compromise” is for them to extort the opposition into agreeing with them totally, then to call it a “bipartisan” agreement.
The modern Republican Party has consistently rejected facts that disagree with its worldview and has based vast portions of its public policy on partisan rhetoric rather than facts. This rejection of facts has extended into virtually every corner of public policy, including tax policy, climate change, environmental degradation and defense:
- Climate Change – The Republicans are united in their rejection of human-caused climate change and have blocked any attempts to confront it as a problem. Even in the face of the coming environmental catastrophy, the Republicans have proposed increasing fossil fuel usage, decreasing research into renewable energy, and cuts into research grants for climate research. In addition to promoting non-factual policy, the Republicans have refused to even acknowledge the scientific evidence that supports climate change (ex. Virginia legislators barred state-funded researchers from publishing a report about global sea-level rise unless they referred to the rise as “persistent flooding”).
- Evolution – The Republican Party is filled with politicians who reject the idea of evolution and promote the teaching of creationism in schools. Evolution is accepted science and creationism is nothing more than a repackaging of ancient religious myths in a veneer of a scientific hypothesis.
- Human Reproduction – In recent years, numerous Republicans have made severe mis-statements in regard to facts surrounding human reproduction. Probably the most famous of these errors was the statement by Todd Akin that rape doesn’t result in pregnancy, thus the rape exception for abortion is unnecessary (to make this situation just a little more scary, Akin is a member of the House Sciences Committee). The failure to understand human reproduction leads to disastrous public policy in regards to reproductive rights (ex. Akin’s attack on abortion rights for rape victims because he believes that no true rape victim could get pregnant) and is very dangerous to the rights of women to control their bodies.
- Tax Policy – Republicans are enamored the “trickle down”, supply side economic theories. These economic theories have been widely debunked as good public policy and were among the largest reasons why our economic system crashed during 2009. Even in the face of the evidence that “trickle down” theories are false, the Republicans have pushed for increased tax breaks on the wealthy and corporations. The rejection of tax policy reality by the Republicans risks crippling the American government, indebting our nation to foreign countries, and causing future economic crashes.
- Regulation – Many Republicans support deregulation of industry and believe that the free market can prevent companies from violating worker’s rights, polluting, and cheating their customers. Put plainly, this belief is delusional and not based in any sound economic or public policy theory—it is identical to saying that, if all laws were abolished, humans would just be nice to one another because it is the right thing to do. Evidence shows that the absence of regulation lets companies get away with exploiting workers (ex. child labor), polluting the environment (ex. fracking leading to tap-water becoming explosive), and causing severe damage to the economy (ex. the banking practices that caused the mortgage crisis). The Republican rejection of reality in regards to regulation has led to them being the facilitator of corporations which wish to remove regulations in order to exploit the American population for a profit.
- Defense – The Republican Party line on defense is that our military spending must continuously be increased, lest our national security become compromised. At current levels, not only does the USA spend more than any other country on defense, but more than the top 19 runner-up countries combined. Cutting some money out of our defense budget (even cutting it by half) simply does not risk our defense, as no other country could pose a reasonable threat to our military power. In our modern geopolitical situation, asymmetrical threats (ex. terrorism) are the main national security threats that our country faces, and massive military spending is simply irrelevant.
When one considers the shear scope of the reality denial that afflicts the current Republican Party, it is extremely worrying. A major political party within our country has disregarded facts in deciding upon both its domestic and international policy. Rejecting facts when making public policy is dangerous because it causes the implementation of policies which aren’t based in reality. Such unrealistic policies rarely achieve the intended result and are, at best, wasteful.
The modern Republican Party has completely abandoned the idea of “compassionate conservatism” and has adopted an ideology of social and economic Darwinism. While the Republicans have never been as friendly towards the less-able (read: non-wealthy) then the Democrats, the current Republicans have adopted a platform directly out of the mind of Ayn Rand. This shift in the right wing has not only occurred within the policy agenda of the Republican Party but also in their ideology;
During the latter half of the 20th century, the Republicans decried “wasteful” social spending on the poor, but they understood that some social spending is both moral and necessary: they supported rudimentary social programs (ex. educational and child welfare programs) and could be convinced to make bargains to support other social programs. Unfortunately, the Republican Party has slowly become a party which rejects all social welfare programs—including ones that it previously supported—and has become hell-bent on destroying the “wasteful” social safety net. The small level of compassion that the Republicans have traditionally held for the poor has been extinguished and all that is left is a party that sees those who cannot take care of themselves as “parasites” and “takers”.
At both the state and federal levels, the Republicans have supported crippling austerity for the poor and lavish tax cuts for the “job-creators” (Read: rich). The federal budget of the current Republican Party (the Ryan Budget) cuts social programs aimed at helping the poor and middle class to the bone, all the while advancing those who make the most by lowering high-income tax rates.
Beyond their policy choices, the Republican Party’s lack of compassion was on full display at the debates—they cheered executions and the idea that those without health insurance should be allowed to die; conversely, they then booed a veteran for being gay and wanting equal rights. While not relevant to policy, these reactions by Republicans illustrate just how little basic compassion the modern Republicans have.
The modern Republican Party appears to lack any degree of shame: many of its members are willing to blatantly lie to the public, engage in extreme hypocrisy, and decry policies which they themselves created. In addition to the lack of shame present in the extreme elements of the Republican Party, the traditional Republicans (usually holdovers from the late 20th century) appear to lack shame for being associated with a party which has been captured by a group of insane extremists.
If Mitt Romney taught us anything, it was that the Republican Party is willing to tolerate its members blatantly and obviously lying to the American public. Romney certainly wasn’t alone in his attempts to win by blatantly lying to the American public, but he illustrates the extreme example of a candidate who lied about everything. Despite the obvious and easily pointed out lies espoused by Romney, the Republicans were willing to stand behind him and never called him out on it. Most politicians lie, but the modern Republicans have taken this to the extreme and have shamelessly engaged in campaigns based purely upon lies.
Shameless hypocrisy is not particularly rare in politics but, just as with political lies, the Republicans have taken a normal political phenomenon to extreme levels. During the past few years, we have seen endless examples of Republican hypocrisy, both in the realms of social and political policy: We saw Republican politicians who had fought the stimulus stand in front of businesses that were saved by the stimulus and take credit for their success. We saw Christian values ideologues caught having affairs, much of the time with individuals of the same gender. The sheer frequency of the modern Republican Party’s hypocrisy is both unprecedented and destructive on the political process.
The modern Republican Party has proven itself willing to shamelessly decry policies which its more reasonable past incarnation actually created; among such policies, the “individual mandate” and the “cap and trade” carbon program are probably the two largest examples. While the modern Republicans call these programs “socialist” or “attacks on liberty”, it is they who created these policies and promoted them for years—right up until Obama adopted them as his own. The staggering lack of shame that has been demonstrated by Republicans in their attacks on the individual mandate—a idea created by the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to single payer healthcare—illustrates just how little the current Republicans care about being consistent.
In the face of Republican Party’s transformation into a party which disregards facts, derides compromise, and despises any attempts to sustain a society which helps the poor/middle class, one would think that the more sane members would feel a degree of shame. Unfortunately, many of these people either lack the ability to feel such shame or are too afraid of their own party to voice their opinions, thus they have remained largely silent. Some Republicans have broken ranks and decried the extremism of their party (ex. Colin Powell), but the vast majority of contemporary Republicans have failed to hold their current party leaders accountable. Whether due to fear of reprisal or simply party loyalty, the resulting lack of accountability is the same.
My father, Alan Sager Ph.D., has a saying that I think helps us understand the transformation of the Republican Party: “Every Republican politician is part of a vast conspiracy to make previous Republicans seem reasonable and intelligent by comparison.” While sarcastic, this comment describes how the Republican Party has gradually grown more irrational and extreme over the years. As their policies have failed to work, Republicans rationalize their failures by coming to the conclusion that they weren’t conservative enough and simply need to go farther right. Over decades, this progression has distilled the Republican Party into its current, extreme, incarnation.
The modern Republicans are truly the party of no. They want to get their way on everything and are unwilling to make any real attempts to compromise. Unless the Republicans go through massive and rapid changes, it appears that American politics will continue to be gridlocked and partisan games will eclipse any real policy progress.