I've been covering politics since the time of Cicero (well maybe not exactly), and let's put it this way - if you could make hay out of hypocrisy, I've seen enough to feed all the herds of American livestock. But what is happening now in our nation's capital, and radiating throughout the country, is enough to put even the most cynical of politicians of past eras to shame.
I fear that we don't have an adequate framework to make complete sense of the depravity and disingenuousness of what is taking place. Basically, we have one political party at the national level, the Republicans, who have long since ceded any pretense of actually doing the work of government, namely making policies to solve problems. Instead, it is raw power for power's sake, and that has turned Congress into what is in essence largely a troll farm on their side of the aisle. You stand out by “owning the libs” on Fox News (or an even more troll-inducing platform). You don’t stand out, or maybe better put you stand out in the wrong way, if you actually try to work on the major issues of the day. It’s all Dr. Seuss and not nearly enough supporting the doctors fighting the pandemic.
To say this brings me no pleasure. Our government was designed for passionate debates over principles (or at least prerogatives) that then were meant to resolve, whenever possible, in compromise. We don’t need one-party rule. We need a marketplace of ideas. But the only marketplace open for business right now in Washington is WITHIN the Democratic Party. What we should have is the will of the majority, with significant concessions for the minority. Now, with the abuse of the filibuster, the denial of basic democratic norms, and the utter bad faith of both the leaders and the followers in the Republican caucus, we have a spectacle of the absurd that is downright dangerous.
Of course none of this is new, but what set me off this evening is following the descent towards a shutdown of the government and the chilling possibility of a default on the nation’s debt. For many in the Beltway “In Crowd,” this is being covered as sport, a fight on the line of scrimmage between opposing political forces. But this is not a game. This is not a case of winners and losers, but a situation where the entire nation is in danger of losing. This isn’t a showdown. This isn’t a question of tactics. It’s extortion. After running up debt with tax cuts and pandemic spending, the Republicans now see the opportunity to stick it to the Democrats. Now, politics is a tough business, it can be bare knuckles. But this is again not a fight over anything other than holding our government and economy hostage.
To write all of this is not to give Democrats a free pass. Their proposals must be analyzed and questioned. Their internal debates deserve to be covered. As the governing party, they need to be scrutinized. But in doing so, we can’t lose sight of the larger context. Republicans only worry about the debt when they are out of power. They see nothing wrong with pouring trillions of dollars into mismanaged foreign wars, but heaven forbid we spend a fraction of that trying to protect our planet against climate change.
It takes no courage to be a cynic. It’s much easier to throw barbs from the sidelines than to try to execute on the field of play. Shamelessness and hypocrisy are bosom buddies and they are living rent-free in the GOP. All serious people know we can’t default on our debt, that we have to work hard to solve difficult problems, that to do so will require bridging our differences. Sadly, to be a serious person as an elected Republican in today’s environment is to be a pariah. It’s all memes, media hits, and mendacity.