Metaphorically speaking, Republican Party political strategy looks more and more like it was crafted by former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith. He's the highly successful tactician who perfected the "Four Corners Offense," a scheme that helped his team burn clock, deny opponents possession of the ball, and win games even over superior opponents. Smith didn't invent the Four Corners, but he was the most successful exploiter of it, just as Republicans are the most successful exploiters of a similar strategy in state and national politics. From Wikipedia:
The four corners offense is an offensive strategy for stalling in basketball. Four players stand in the corners of the offensive half-court and the fifth dribbles the ball in the middle. Most of the time the point guard stays in the middle, but the middle player would periodically switch, temporarily, with one of the corner players.Would that default middle player be Sen. Lindsay Graham? Anyway:
Limited by their shrinking political base, Republicans in Congress and in statehouses have become adept at gerrymandering legislative districts and imposing restrictions on Democratic-friendly voters. But in case that doesn't suffice, they've also turned to stalling, "holding the ball" against Democrats when they don't have the votes to prevent passage of progressive legislation. Thus, they introduce myriad laws chipping away at the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade basic protection of a woman's right to an abortion, and drag their feet mightily when it comes to implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, because Obamacare.
The Four Corners delay works especially well in American politics, although it wrecks the orderly processes of governance while creating increased cynicism among citizens. When, say, Democrats move in on Republican senators holding the figurative ball, the latter pass it to the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Or, when Democrats finally appear to gain control over a policy in Congress despite GOP opposition, Republicans pass the ball to their state-based colleagues, who begin passing it around again in an elaborate game of keep-away. Or they get their special-interest patrons to hold the ball awhile. They only dribble rhetoric as necessary.
Read more below the orange center-court logo:
The Four Corners Political Offense employs conservative players so spread out they aren't in the same branches of federal government; they even encompass state and federal jurisdictions. For instance, third-party conservative interest groups flood courts with nuisance law suits, some of which result in GOP victories when conservative judges and justices find holes in the defense and toss the ball into the paint for a cheap, back-door lay-up.
Meanwhile, Republican senators artificially hold floor sessions open nearly year-round, even when a quorum intentionally isn't present, all in order to block the president's recess appointments. They actively promote vacancies in important positions, refusing to approve presidential nominees chosen to run key agencies, that are powerless to act until the nominee is approved. It's all part of the Four Corners stall.
Sometimes this just delays the inevitable, but more and more it serves to un-do what are decided issues. When, for instance, Republican governors balk at implementing parts of the Affordable Care Act, they cause delays that they can later assert are signs of Democratic incompetence, if not the law's own fatally flawed language. In other words, they work the refs, trying for fouls, especially technical fouls. They live for those moments when frustrated Democrats over-reach in their efforts to steal back the ball.
The underlying motive, of course, is that Republicans are gaming the system for fun and, mostly, profit. It's like the joke about the kid who shot his parents and then pleaded for the court's mercy because he was an orphan. Having killed one law after another by sheer foot-dragging, the GOP is busy right now turning our nation's representative government into an orphan of another kind.
Now, let's be clear: Democrats have played some of these games, too. But they're like Division II college players up against GOP Olympians when it comes to stalling tactics.
Thing is, college basketball teams were never able to devise a working defense against the Four Corners, and the game devolved into long minutes of nothingness. Finally, aghast at what a boring, non-productive spectacle the game had become, the National Collegiate Athletic Association finally imposed a fix. The association voted to introduce the shot clock, dooming the Four Corners. If you have to shoot the ball within seconds or give it up, lengthy stalls no longer make sense.
Thus, it's time for Democrats and perhaps even mindful courts to create the equivalence of the shot clock in law-making.
Now, this would be a completely figurative shot-clock solution. After all, legislative chambers at the local, state and federal levels already often set time limits on floor debates (in fact, highly restrictive time limits are a hallmark of Republican majorities seeking to jam legislation through to passage before the public even is aware of what's going on; these would be the same Repubs who complain more time is needed to vet Democratic legislation, because it's so, so complicated).
Another solution was what Wisconsin Democrats did in 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans introduced a blitzkrieg campaign to enact a union-busting law as quickly as possible. Lacking any state version of a filibuster and trying to slow Republicans down so a reasonable, public policy debate could occur, every state Senate Democrat left the Capitol and hid out in neighboring Illinois, so the governor couldn't send state police to drag them back onto the legislative floor.
Democrats were in the minority, but without their numbers the GOP lacked a quorum to proceed to a vote. The tactic actually worked to the extent that the true implications of the bill became widely known, leading to the recall of several Republican state legislators and a failed but mighty effort to recall Walker himself.
But surely there are other ways to create the equivalent of a basketball shot clock in politics. Foremost among them, of course, would be if Democrats now controlling the US Senate were to do away with some or all of the informal rules agreements that over the past couple of decades have turned that chamber's filibuster and other processes into dysfunctional, omnipresent, minority veto power.
Our democratic republic is up-ended when a minority as small as one US senator can often prevent consideration, not to mention actual voting, on essentially an indefinite basis. It's power far more off the rails than those self-absenting Wisconsin Democrats who sooner or later would have had to return to the floor, and in fact did.
So get Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the horn. Tell him to stop stalling and end the Four Corners stall. Sure, if that happens, Democrats won't be able to stall in the future, either. But ask yourself this: Which political philosophy -- conservative retcons of our democracy or progressive efforts to re-tune and update public policy -- benefits more from stalling tactics?
Final thought: My Four Corners analogy is in some respects too simplistic. A two-dimensional model based on a basketball court doesn't account for the fact that in modern American politics, Republicans now simultaneously play the game across multiple levels and courts, big and small. Nor does it account for the fact that their tactics in D.C. and in statehouses sometimes serve to turn their losing team into a winner, all by doing as little as possible. In basketball, Four Corners only works if you have a lead. In American politics, it now works even if you're behind in the score.
A better analogy might be 3D chess. How do you prevent one player in that complex game from working hard to win a stalemate, or frustrate the other player so much he up and leaves the table, surrendering the win? We might need the wisdom and logic of Star Trek's Mr. Spock to provide the answer. That, and the patience of Job, too.