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With every blocked nomination, filibustered bill, or gummed up committee work, we keep hearing the same tired response from Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House: that Congressional Republicans are engaging in unprecedented levels of obstruction and that they are "disappointed" by it. This is true. I wont list the manifold examples of Republicans in Congress doing exactly that. Where I disagree with my fellow Democrats is identifying this as the problem in  the normal functioning of the republic. In my view, the more important problem is how Democrats respond to obstruction. If Democrats had a basic understanding of the modern Republican party, they would expect obstruction of the most irrational sort. Furthermore, their response to it would be something beyond complaining about it and then sitting on their hands. That is, if they truly want to do something about it other than complain. When you consider their current responses, it is pretty clear to me that Democrats are misidentifying where the real problem with legislative gridlock lies.

More below the fold.


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Call them out. That's what we hear over and over again whenever Republicans do what Republicans do. But so far, Democrats' "calling them out" basically amounts to demanding that Republicans of all people be reasonable and rational. It is irrational to expect Republicans to be rational. The Republican Party is not a normal political party with various wings and factions all responsive to varying constituencies in the body politic. Not anymore. Instead, the Republican party is a collection of of radical extremist factions, built on a foundation of racism and bigotry, financed and controlled by a self-interested elite. They aren't rational except to the degree that will always be beholden to radical extremists and the rich. They don't believe in winning elections by appealing to the broadest population possible as a normal political party would. Instead, they believe in winning elections by focusing the narrowest band of true believers, turning them out, and using election chicanery and dirty tricks to suppress the vote of everyone else.

This is who they really are. Any political party that actively seeks to curb voting by people they don't like is only naturally going to look to curbing legislation they don't like. We've seen example after example of their hatred for everyone who is not an elderly, white, rural, conservative, wealthy heterosexual male. The Republican Party is not an accident of geography and demographics. It is who they are. Their being opposed to anything and everything Democrats stand for is the natural result of who they are and whose votes and opinions they care about. Calling them out for being who they are is weak, obvious, and ultimately ineffective. Whenever Democrats say "Republicans are opposing our agenda!" the Republican rank and file says "Yes!" Not "oh...why aren't our guys being reasonable?" Even for legislation that 90% of Republicans support, they will oppose it if Democrats are for it. One can't reason with a radical. For Republicans, there is no political cost to obstruction. So what point is there in pointing out that they are doing it?

Secondly, it isn't the job of the party in opposition to cooperate with the party in power. This is the ridiculous idea that has been hurting Washington for years as the Republican Party has moved further and further towards the fringes of society. If there were two parties broadly appealing for the greatest number of people in the electorate, then there would be an incentive to compromise because if both parties are going after the same voters then only naturally would their policy positions indicate broad agreement over issues. Then and only then is compromise possible. But as the Republican Party has gone off the deep end, appealing only a very narrow band of the electorate, the policy gap between the parties, especially over social issues, is a vast canyon. Therefore it is only natural that Republicans would oppose everything the majority wants. They are the opposition, after all, and not of the loyal sort but the radical sort. It simply makes no sense to expect Republicans to be cooperative when their base is telling them not to be. Their job, as they see it and Democrats should too, is to oppose everything until they regain power. They are very open about this. What point is there in asking the uncooperative, radical opposition to become something they have no interest or incentive in being?

Finally, it isn't working. Democrats have gained nothing by calling out the opposition for opposing. Nor has it ever worked. Democrats have been limply complaining about obstruction since early 2009 and so far it hasn't cost a single Republican his or her seat in Congress. No Democrat has beaten a single Republican in an election race that was about the Congressional process. It doesn't cost Republicans politically, nor does it change it the incentives to obstruction. Nor can Democrats point to any of their legislation they enacted into law by essentially school marming the Republicans into good behavior. Democrats have been trying this for years and have nothing to show for it at the ballot box or in terms of legislative victories or nominations. So what's the point? Why keep doing it?

Democrats have to change the incentives for Republicans. That is the only way to defeat obstruction. That is the only way to defeat Republicans in committee, on the legislative floor, and at the ballot box. To make opposition costly. I'll make some simple suggestions in part 2 next week.

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