Are they there to govern, of just destroy? As Washington works through its "lame duck" session and prepares for next year's new Congress, there are signs that the government-haters are preparing some serious hating on government itself.
The country needs to get moving. But conservatives, rewarded in the midterms for a strategy of obstruction, are bent on stopping everything and turning back the clock. For two years they followed a strategy of blocking everything and blaming the President for not making people's lives better. The strategy succeeded and now they are determined to carry it through to the next election. They are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, calling for an end to ongoing infrastructure development like high-speed and commuter rail and alternative energy, and have made it clear that any new efforts to stimulate the economy are out of the question. Many are starting to worry about the terrible effect these positions will have on the economy, and are calling it deliberate sabotage.
Destroy the Country to Save the Country?
In Planning for the Worst, Matt Yglesias wrote that the White house should plan for "a true worst case scenario of deliberate economic sabotage."
Zach Carter writes at CAF, in Ben Bernanke And Conservative Economic Sabotage,
The Republican Party's newfound political assault on Ben Bernanke is a grim reminder of the actual conservative economic agenda for the next two years. The midterm elections taught Republicans a destructive lesson: With Democrats in power, the worse the economy gets, the better Republicans do at the voting booth. Economic sabotage is the essential Republican strategy for winning the White House in 2012. They will block every effort to actually improve the economy they can, and make a big show out of criticizing any economic aid they can't block.
Steve Benen has been writing about this at the Washington Monthly Political Animal blog. In NONE DARE CALL IT SABOTAGE, Benen wondered if Republicans are actively sabotaging the economy to help keep Obama from being reelected,
This general approach has shifted from hoping conditions don't improve to taking steps to ensure conditions don't improve. We've gone from Republicans rooting for failure to Republicans trying to guarantee failure.
[. . .] If a major, powerful political party is making a conscious decision about sabotage, the political world should probably take the time to consider whether this is acceptable, whether it meets the bare minimum standards for patriotism, and whether it's a healthy development in our system of government.
Digby's response to these, Virtuous Sabotage, is that Republicans are "blatantly proclaiming themselves to be virtuous by undermining the national interest in order to win elections." She brings up the media's complicity in this,
I think it's just another step in the degradation of our societal norms. We are not living in a country anymore in which there is even a consensus about something as immoral as torture, so why should political sabotage be beyond the pale? And the mainstream media, which Benen points out should be charged with bringing some perspective to these issues and calling attention to the fact that the Republican Party is actively working to undermine the national interest, is so deep into their "Church of the Savvy" that they literally laugh at this phenomenon and then proceed to call balls and strikes as if it's a sport to find out who can win with the most cynical strategy.
Obstruction Morphs Into Destruction
Conservatives, watching only FOX, listening only to right-wing radio and reading only far-right blogs have gone beyond just obstruction as a campaign tactic and whipped themselves into an anti-government, anti-tax, anti-Obama frenzy. Obstruction is giving way to demands for destruction. They have raised the rhetoric to such a level that many of their "Tea Party" supporters will only be happy if the government is destroyed and corporate anarchy prevails.
The rhetoric has reached such a level of extremism that it is difficult to describe the things they are saying to people who don't follow the news. Bloggers, activists and general followers of news will confirm that if you try to tell people what the "baggers" and their elected representatives are saying they think YOU'RE crazy! It does sound extreme when you try to describe the things they are saying.
An immediate casualty of the right's extremism may be the START treaty. Egged on by Rush Limbaugh, who said on his show that the Russians have never honored a treaty, and conservative echo-organs like the Heritage Foundation, writing last week that claims President Reagan would have supported the treaty are a "myth" from a White House "in campaign mode," conservative Senators are opposing the treaty. Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee is warning that this opposition is dangerous for the country. Many other senior Republicans, including Brent Scowcroft, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell , James Baker, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, have joined him urging ratification of the treaty. Former Missouri Senator John Danforth even says Republicans lately "have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption." For his statesmanship the Tea Party is targeting Lugar.
The Dream: No Government At All
For many of the new breed of conservative government itself is the real target. Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show last week, was telling his listeners that we don't need government at all, that things worked much better in the "wild west" before government showed up and ruined the party. Meanwhile many conservatives are now devotees of Ayn Rand, who denigrates democracy and government as "collectivism" and "statism," and these ideas and the cult-words that describe them echo through the Tea Party. Glenn Beck regularly feeds Randian rhetoric to his audience.
Right now people who pay attention to what conservatives are saying to each other are warning there is every indication that the conservatives are going to force the country to default when the "debt ceiling" comes due for increase early next year. The effect of such a move would extend far beyond "just" a government shutdown, a default by the U.S. threatens the entire world's economy. But if you read their blogs, listen to their radio shows and talk to their supporters it's apparent that they have talked themselves into a corner on this and any vote to raise the debt ceiling will be seen as total betrayal. Former Senator Alan Simpson, for one, is ecstatic. "The debt limit, when it comes in April or May, will prove who's a hero, and who's a jerk and who's a charlatan and who's a faker," he said recently.
Paul Krugman, in There Will Be Blood, writes about Simpson's comments, and warns of the seriousness of the consequences if conservatives get their way on the debt limit,
Think of Mr. Simpson's blood lust as one more piece of evidence that our nation is in much worse shape, much closer to a political breakdown, than most people realize.
... Now, you might think that the prospect of this kind of standoff, which might deny many Americans essential services, wreak havoc in financial markets and undermine America's role in the world, would worry all men of good will. But no, Mr. Simpson "can't wait." And he's what passes, these days, for a reasonable Republican.
The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it's doing the governing. And that party now controls one house of Congress, which means that the country will not, in fact, be governable without that party's cooperation -- cooperation that won't be forthcoming.
What Is Endgame?
Sara Robinson, in her widely-read post, None Dare Call It Sedition, warned that the right was getting out of control,
This is sedition in slow motion, a gradual corrosive undermining of the government's authority and capacity to run the country. And it's been at the core of their politics going all the way back to Goldwater.
This long assault has gone into overdrive since Obama's inauguration, as the rhetoric has ratcheted up from overheated to perfervid. We've reached the point where you can't go a week without hearing some prominent right wing leader calling for outright sedition -- an immediate and defiant populist uprising against some legitimate form of government authority.
After describing numerous calls to violence, the more-frequent appearance of weapons at right-wing political rallies, the growth or militias, Robinson writes,
For years now, we've dismissed all of this as crazy talk, the rantings of a loony fringe that will never get enough traction to become a material threat to our democracy. But we're well past the point where it's no longer quaint and funny, or an embarrassing breach of democratic etiquette that polite people should just ignore.
So I want to ask if just getting Obama out of office is the endgame -- or is it turning into more than that? When you throw in that many of the Tea Party right are saying they will shut down the government if they get the chance, and will vote against the debt ceiling -- forcing the government to default and causing economic chaos worldwide -- you have to ask if destruction of government and the resulting chaos is the goal? Force the country to be ungovernable, angry and unstable with lots of desperate people running around in a general chaos? Breaking society apart so they be the supermen who step in and reform it in an Ayn Randian image? A new conservative order rising out of chaos is a recurring theme in right-wing mythology and sounds too much like the Turner Diaries for me.
Or maybe they just aren't thinking things through to the point where they understand the consequences of their increasingly extremist rhetoric and positions.
What Can We Do?
But what do we do about it? The conservatives live in a bubble, hearing only Limbaugh, seeing only FOX and reading only right-wing blogs. They aren't going to let themselves be reasoned with. Any one trying to work out problems is labeled a RINO and dismembered. The media will only say "both sides do it." The public is bombarded with corporate-funded smear-ads, telling the public that Democrats voted to cut their Medicare, and the candidates elected by those ads then turn around and cut their Medicare, to give those same corporations another windfall.
The only thing that will work is public pressure. To accomplish this we will have to reach the public ourselves and that is going to take some work, and some money. More on this soon.