Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Politics of Professor Wagstaff

I had the pleasure of surfing across a TNT Classic presentation of The Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers, the other night.  I grew up in a home that worshipped their fraternal comic genius, and the jokes and bits from this movie were regularly revisited around our dinner table.  The movie features a few songs, as most Marx Brothers movie do, since all of the brothers were immensely gifted musicians.  This particular number caught my attention: 

From the Marx Bros. film “Horse Feathers” (1932)
(Harry Ruby / Bert Kalmar)

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I’m against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
And even when you’ve changed it
Or condensed it
I’m against it!

I’m opposed to it
On general principles
I’m opposed to it!
(He’s opposed to it)
(In fact, he says he’s opposed to it!)

For months before my son was born
I used to yell from night to morn
“Whatever it is, I’m against it!”
And I’ve kept yelling
Since I first commenced it
“I’m against it!”

Almost 80 years later, the ‘modern’ GOP has taken the music and lyrics to this little comedic ditty and created a governing philosophy.  If it weren’t so true, I’d be laughing.

Cap and trade was a market based Republican solution to the problem of pollution and global climate change.  Cap and trade was part of the 2008 GOP platform.  When President Obama indicated that he was for it, the GOP turned against it.

The individual mandate was a concept championed by the GOP as an alternative to solve our nation’s health care cost crisis.  It reflected their stated values of personal responsibility.  When Obama agreed, and said he was for the mandate, the GOP turned against it.

The Republicans recommended the formation of a bipartisan commission to address long term deficits.  Obama agreed and establish the Bowles-Simpson Commission to make recommendations.  Suddenly, the GOP was against the idea of a commission.
When the Republican Study Committee in March of this year recommend a budget deficit solution that was a mix of 85% spending cuts and 15% revenue increases, both Mitch McConnell and John Boehner supported it.  When President Obama countered with 83% spending cuts and 17% revenue increases, the GOP balked and demanded that 100% spending cuts was the only reasonable way forward.  They were for it before they were against it.

In 2006, Dick Cheney famously crowed that "deficits don't matter."  The GOP passed tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, financed 2 wars and enacted a prescription drug benefit without any mechanism to pay for any of it.  Spending went up and revenue went down under Republican leadership, and they raised the deficit ceiling 7 times in 8 years without preconditions.  Now that Obama is President, deficits are a threat to liberty and a example of government run amok.  On debt and the deficit, the GOP changed their minds I guess.

The President and the Speaker of the House had agreed in principal on $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.  When the rank and file in the House learned that Obama was for it, they were vehemently against it.
As Matt Yglesias wrote the other day, “If members of Congress think like partisans who want to capture the White House, then the smart strategy for them is to refuse to do whatever it is the president wants. The content of the president’s desire is irrelevant. But the more ambitious his desire is, the more important it is to turn him down.”  The Republicans view politics as a zero sum game - I will, you lose.  There is no win-win scenario in their playbook.

I think another factor may be in play that explains the GOP refusal to compromise and work forward on ideas that they once embraced.  Their view of politics is skewed by the religious right.  Fareed Zakaria once wrote, "Religion is about moral absolutes; politics is all about compromise.  The mixture of religious fundamentalism with politics encourages a winner-take-all attitude towards political life."  This has poisoned the thinking of the Grand Old Party, maybe irrepairably.  The result is not just a damaged brand for Republicans, but a damaged country.

Unlike the Groucho Marx song, this Party of No approach is no joke.  It makes a mockery of last Presidential election’s GOP slogan, “Country First.”  It’s shameful.

No comments:

Post a Comment