Having taken control of the House of Representatives as of tomorrow, Republicans now have to govern. They have to do things like make a budget. And not just a fake budget, like in a campaign. A real budget, that adds up, more or less. They have to negotiate with a Senate still in Democratic hands over the final shape of appropriations to the various federal agencies. All that sounds suspiciously like hard work. And Washington Republicans, for all their thumpety-thump rhetoric about hard work and personal initiative and so on, are largely lazy and unserious people. They won't do the work, and in two years, it will show.Well. Here we are, two years later and Republican members of the "do-nothing" Congress, confident of being rewarded for their nothingness with an expanded majority in the upcoming mid-term elections, tell us they are anxious to prove that they are "ready to govern."
That strikes me as a hard sell, but here's Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) leading the pep rally, a week before going home for a month to face his constituents:
People didn’t put us out here to say no. They put us here to govern. It’s something that we have to go for and have to do to show the American people we can solve big problems.Perhaps tackling "big problems" is a bit ambitious, with Congress' approval rating at 15%. Eighty five per cent of the American people would be grateful if Congress could demonstrate an ability to solve any problem -- large or small. And, in fact, House Republicans went home to their districts with little to show for their term. Unless, of course, we count filing their preposterous lawsuit against the president for governing too much.
Keep going . . .
Pondering all of that, I had to ask myself what, exactly, do people who believe that government is the root of all evil mean when they say they are "ready to govern?"
Imagine, for a minute, that you're at a restaurant . . . the chef is a personal friend and you know how much she loves working with food of all kinds. Except fish. She absolutely hates fish. Think you'll order the Bouillabaisse?
Earlier this year, in an ironic mood, House Republican leadership (which, at the time, included Eric Cantor) decided to prove their readiness to govern by eschewing governance.
The official strategy for the second year of their term was to avoid blowing up the government with shutdowns, manufactured debt crises and similarly embarrassing political theatrics. Additionally, leadership advised holding off on "major bills," -- as if there actually were any in the hopper -- because they only tend to demonstrate how unpopular Republican policies are and how divided the party is.
Unfortunately, such a strategy doesn't serve particularly well when crises like the recent influx of Central American refugee children arise. Most Americans don't look too favorably upon running away from problems.
As Josh Barro, a self-professed Republican put it:
There is no serious argument for Republican governance right now, even if you prefer conservative policies over liberal ones. These people are just too dangerously incompetent to be trusted with power.And there is certainly nothing more to recommend the relatively sane Republicans who make hand-wringing public statements like "the party's strategy for the last month has been lunacy." [Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) re last year's government shutdown] . . . then wait patiently on the sidelines to see what new craziness will ensue.
A party that is this bad at tactics can't be expected to be any good at policy-making.
When congressional Republicans try to defend their governance skills, they often point to Republican governors with pride. But why . . . ?
A typical red state economy features low or no income tax rates, a “balanced budget” and spending austerity, with public education and welfare bearing the brunt of any new belt-tightening. And that, they say, is how they achieve such model state economies.
Republican governors will brag about low unemployment numbers but won't necessarily tell you about the median income. Despite Republicans' mad fiscal skills it is a very well documented fact that, for the last 30 years, the highest median incomes are found in blue states and the highest levels of poverty are found in red states.
Take 2012, just as an example, the ten states with the lowest median income were: Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, New Mexico Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
Lotta red there.
By contrast? the ten states with the highest median income were: Maryland, New Jersey, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, and Delaware.
Republicans are also famously "tough on crime" and promise to keep America safer, however, eight of the top eleven states for murder are red -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Michigan, South Carolina, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, and Arkansas and Georgia are tied.
The ten states with the overall highest violent crime rate are: Tennessee, Nevada, Alaska, New Mexico, South Carolina, Delaware, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, and Oklahoma.
Family Values? The ten states with the highest divorce rates: 1. Alaska; 2. Oklahoma; 3; Kentucky; 4. Arkansas; 5. Alabama; 6. Nevada; 7. Georgia; 8. Texas; 9. Tennessee; 10. Maine
No big surprises in education -- Republicans' favorite source of budget cuts -- The ten states with the worst graduation rates in the country are: Nevada-62%, New Mexico-63%, Georgia-67%, tie between Louisiana and Florida-71%, Alabama-72% and a tie between South Carolina, Michigan and Colorado, at 74%.
So where, exactly do Republicans get the idea that they are good at governing? what do they consider their legacy of good governance? If you listen to their rhetoric, Ronald Reagan is their conservative superhero and paragon of good governance.
In actual fact, Reagan was the antithesis of conservative as defined by today's ideologues. The man raised taxes eleven times in eight years, unemployment rose to an unprecedented 10.8% and the deficit tripled on Reagan's watch . . .
Former GOP Senator Alan Simpson, who called Reagan “a dear friend,” told NPR:
Ronald Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his administration — I was there.and, according to historian Douglas Brinkley, who edited Reagan’s memoir:
Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes. Reagan the anti-tax zealot is “false mythology.Tell that to the myth-makers . . .
While promising to "control the runaway growth of federal spending,” Reagan actually grew the government significantly. He attempted to privatize Social Security then had to bail it out at great expense, to include creating a progressive tax to fund it into the future.
Reagan said that he would cut government agencies like the Department of Education but wound up creating a new one, instead - the Department of Veterans' Affairs with a current budget of $90 billion/year. Reagan hiked defense spending by $100 billion/year . . . during peacetime.
Much to Republicans' unending chagrin, Reagan gave amnesty to 3 million undocumented immigrants with one hand, while vetoing a comprehensive anti-Apartheid act with the other. Congress later overrode his veto.
And who could forget the Iran Contra Affair? or the billions of dollars of support Reagan funneled to Islamic mujahidin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan? the same mujahidin that spawned the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and who burst onto the scene well-trained, well-equipped and well-armed thanks to President Ronald Reagan.
History shows that our government actually worked well during the post-WWII era, when Democrats ran things for the better part of 30 years. Republicans have controlled most of the government for 30 of the last 34 years, and not many Americans would describe it as a golden age.
I haven't the scope here to even scratch the surface of the disastrous reign of C+ Augustus, as Charlie Pierce has dubbed George W. Bush. Those wars? just put 'em on our tab. Deficits don't matter . . .
As David Leonhardt noted in The New York Times, a few years back, this is the "state of the union" for 99% of Americans, thanks to Republican policy:
Since 1980, median household income has risen only 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, while average incomes at the top have tripled or quadrupled.Republicans and their obsessive-compulsive conservatism have done us no favors. In the words of Alan Wolfe:
Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.So, in the coming months, when Republicans tell us that they are "ready to govern?" Duck and cover! then get thee to a polling place in November.
And take a friend or two . . . please.