Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Think We've Hit Disloyalty (or THIS is What I Was Afraid Of)

Looking back at some of my old posts on dangerous polarization, they seem to come from an age of innocence. That innocence is no more.

New Zealand columnist Paul Buchanan compared the Republican/Tea Party/Fox opposition to Obama to conservative Chilean opposition to Salvador Allende, seeking to make the country ungovernable, and preferring a military coup to compromise. I was somewhat dismissive at the time. Clearly the Republican Party was not calling for violent insurrection or a military coup, and I was not sure if one could stick strictly to legal opposition and be disloyal.

Well, now we have it. The Republican Party has clearly overstepped the boundaries of loyal opposition and moved into what I would consider disloyalty. Refusal to cooperate on legislation -- fine. That's hardball but still loyal. Whipping up paranoia and hysteria -- that can go too far and become dangerous, but the line between normal hyperbole and incitement is not always clear. But threatening to default on our obligations with unknown ramifications for the economy that could stretch into the indefinite future -- now that's disloyalty.

Something more is going on here, too. Originally, Republicans insisted that they would not raise the debt ceiling past the next election unless they got spending cuts equivalent to the amount they raised the debt ceiling and no tax increases. There is no particular reason this should be so. Raising the debt ceiling has never been linked to equivalent cuts in spending before, but no matter. The point is that after extensive wrangling, Democrats have agreed to all these terms and the Republicans still won't agree to raise the debt ceiling. In fact, they have made fairly clear that no matter what Obama endorses, they will oppose. In other words, it is not enough to achieve what they want, only forcing over something Obama will not agree to will do.* And, after all, Congress has the Constitutional power to do that -- if they have the 2/3 majority in both houses to override a Presidential veto. Given that they have a majority in only one house (and not the 2/3 needed to override a veto), some sort of compromise is necessary. But large portions of the Republican Party would rather default on our obligations with unknown damage to our economy than get what they want in a manner insufficiently humiliating to the President.

THAT'S disloyalty.

Since I was worried about about polarization tearing apart our democracy, I grappled with what exactly I was afraid would happen. What was my model of failure. I ruled out Germany and Italy (an anti-democratic party being elected and abolishing democracy from within), Chile (military coup), Spain (civil war), the US in 1860 (civil war). So what was my model I feared we would become? At the time, I said California, a government so dysfunctional as to be non-functional. Since then we can add Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida. But watching Republicans who don't have the 2/3 majority to get their way by the accepted constitutional process preferring default to any sort of compromise, I have a new model of what to fear. The United States in 2011.
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*This is the concept set foth by Machiavelli when he said that it is better to be feared than loved because love depends on others and fear depends on the ruler. Or Orwell in 1984, saying that to get someone to do your will is to make him suffer, or how will you know the other person is doing your will and not his own. That is the mindset the Republican Party has reached.

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