03/31/2011 06:31 am ET Updated May 31, 2011

The Republicans Lack the Seriousness to Govern

The Republicans shouldn't be taken seriously anymore.

It seems obvious, but in order to be taken seriously, politicians have to be, you know, serious. Not just in terms of personality or behavior, but primarily in terms of policy and lawmaking. If a politician refuses to propose serious ideas and only pumps out nonsensical bumper-sticker sloganeering, fear-based histrionics or symbolic legislative measures that pander to kneejerk interest groups, then he or she ought to be summarily refused the privilege of our deference, respect and, especially, our vote.

Very few modern Republicans and conservatives qualify. They fail the seriousness test at almost every level -- from the Republican leadership on down the line.

Take Eric Cantor, for example. The House Majority Leader. The second most powerful Republican in Washington. Whenever I write about Eric Cantor, I'm generally met with the reaction of crickets chirping. He's not as well-known or as incendiary as Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck. But he's exponentially more important, and so we have to pay attention to what he's doing.

You might recall how Cantor, along with 228 House Republicans, permanently attached their names to proven scam-artist James O'Keefe by voting to de-fund NPR in reaction to O'Keefe's latest sting video. Like all of O'Keefe's work, the NPR video was selectively and deceptively edited to make it seem as though an NPR executive was expressing personal views about tea party Republicans. Within days of the release of the video, Eric Cantor publicly embraced O'Keefe and expressed outrage at the dubiously-attained videotape. In his public remarks, Cantor announced the effort to de-fund NPR. Later, the House successfully voted to codify the work of a known fraud.

Should Eric Cantor really be taken seriously? No way. And it gets worse.

Yesterday, Cantor announced a piece of legislation that might as well legalize hobbit marriage and cut the budget for time-traveling DeLoreans. It's just that fantastical.

On Friday, the House Republicans will hold a floor vote on the Government Shutdown Prevention Act. Sounds positive and responsible, doesn't it? No one except for tea party Republicans and Grover Norquist wants to shut down the government. But it's not that simple or serious. The legislation basically says that if the Senate doesn't pass a satisfactory budget act before April 6, HR 1 would automatically become a law.

Here's why that's incredibly weird and wrong.

First, HR 1 was the House budget bill that cut $61 billion from the budget. The Senate subsequently voted it down, more or less killing the bill. Second, as some of us learned from Schoolhouse Rock, this is not how a bill becomes a law. I realize many Republicans and conservatives are a little fuzzy about the Constitution, but this is absolutely not how lawmaking works. Both chambers of Congress have to approve a bill, and then it has to be signed by the president in order to become a law. You just can't pass a bill that says another bill -- POOF! -- becomes a law, ostensibly by some form of magic.

This is Eric Cantor's big idea -- not some radical freshman tea party Republican. It's not a fringy proposal from a fire-eating talk radio host or one of the more wacky House Republicans like Louie Gohmert or Steve King. The House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is supporting the bill, and I won't be at all shocked if the Republicans vote in lockstep to pass the Government Shutdown Prevention Act. In fact, I'm not only predicting the passage of this bill, but I'm expecting an amendment honoring He-Man and Man-at-Arms as congressionally-designated Masters of the Universe. I'm being facetious, of course, but look at this bill. It can't possibly be more serious than a He-Man amendment. It's utter nonsense, and it's coming from the real-life House Majority Leader and one of the two major political parties in America.

Cantor even said, "We're serious."

No. They're not.

Yet they continue to be taken seriously, and the traditional press, for its part, self-consciously offers the Republicans the benefit of the popular "both sides" meme. Somehow both sides are equally crazy, they say. Subsequently, if both sides are crazy, then no one is truly crazy. Everything is even-Steven, and the entire game is played with that baseline. So the Republicans are perpetually given the majority of airtime on cable news and on the Sunday shows, regardless of their level of mendacity and lunacy.

And, by the way, the Democrats aren't helping.

Somehow in the midst of this budget cutting austerity fever, the Democrats have accepted the false Republican framing that we have to cut spending or else we're all doomed. While deficit reduction will eventually be a solid idea to tackle when economic growth is steady and unemployment is back down to six or seven percent, until then it should never be addressed during a slow-growth, jobless recovery months after a major recession. Why? When families are tightening their collective belts, as the short-sited metaphor goes, the government is in a unique position to spend money in order to make up the difference. It has a responsibility to do so. If government and families both stop spending, the economy suffers -- especially during or immediately after a recession. Even the president fails to grasp this concept. But despite insisting (and rightfully so) that Republican Reaganomics is primarily responsible for the Great Recession, and despite the failure of austerity in Europe, the Democrats are merrily going along with Republican budget-cutting -- not as much cutting, but they're still insisting they have to cut, and they're meeting Republicans halfway. Again, why is anyone taking the Republicans seriously on the economy and the deficit when their economic and fiscal policies from the last 30 years ballooned the deficit and totally flummoxed the economy?

They simply can't be trusted to govern. At some point in recent history the Republicans ceased to be serious participants in governing.

Take a look at their presidential field for 2012.

With roughly ten months to go before Iowa, the Republican presidential candidates more closely resemble the Mos Eisley cantina aliens from Star Wars than a very serious collection of future leaders. Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and even the otherwise somnambulant Tim Pawlenty seem increasingly more clownish by the day.

How so? The prospective candidates are pledging allegiance to Birtherism -- a pander to race-based conspiracy mongering and, shockingly, 51 percent of primary voters. Their positions are nothing more than the opposite of what the Democrats say. They're contradicting their own previously-stated positions. The most visible 2012 prospect, Sarah Palin, doesn't understand the First Amendment. And, while they attack the president for timidity and dithering on Libya, not a single one of the frontrunners has been bold enough to officially declare their candidacy with just ten months to go. Bold of them.

Until the Republicans begin to take seriously the task of governing, and then achieve some successes at doing so, there's no reason why anyone should take them seriously. They need to earn it. If they're unwilling to try, then they have to be replaced.

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