I was a little kid during the Eisenhower administration, when men were men and Republicans were rational. Like most little kids, I spent a few years trying to get my way about everything – employing age-old tactics in the process.
If confined in an uncongenial atmosphere – such as church – I would commence to wriggle and squirm. If my parents attempted to restrain me, I got vocal about it. At which point my Dad would yank me up, march me outside, and administer ten or twelve ungentle swats to my bottom.
On the whole, the treatment proved effective. Dad was never foolish enough to say anything like, “This will hurt me more than it hurts you” – though it probably did. Anyway, his spankings were rare, and invariably deserved.
I’ve never raised children, but I realize that spankings went out of style about the same time as black-and-white TV. New tactics became fashionable – some effective, some plain silly. The pendulum swung, as pendulums will, from one extreme to the other.
If I had to guess, I’d say that we’ll eventually come back to the spanking – on a more infrequent, more scientific basis. After all, properly and appropriately administered, a spanking can be highly effective.
It certainly worked for me.
The certainty of a spanking is probably why I skipped the “holding my breath ‘til I turn blue” phase of rebellion – which more or less guaranteed that I would never become a Republican congressman.
And I can live with that.
Sadly, we are living through an era where the tantrum is accepted as a legitimate political tactic. It has shown up at both ends of the spectrum, but “Tea Party” Republicans have made tantrums their specialty.
At present, the 234 House Republicans – unable to deal with 30-odd Tea Party radicals and a few dozen allies – have surrendered any pretense of responsible governance in favor of the political tantrum. Elected to serve the nation by drafting laws and budgets – the two major legislative functions – right-wing Republicans have come to Congress so freighted with absolute, unconditional demands that they simply cannot participate.
All they can do is threaten to hold their collective breaths until they – and all the rest of us – turn blue.
And this, despite their recent rejection at the polls. In last year’s congressional elections, Americans preferred Democrats over Republicans by something like 1.5 million votes. The present Republican majority in the House of Representatives is entirely artificial – the product of gerrymandering.
And recent polls confirm this. Since the government shut down, Republicans have dropped precipitously in the polls, while President Obama has actually gained slightly.
But that doesn’t deter the extreme right, which prefers throwing tantrums to the hard work of governing. Thus far, House Republicans have refused to pass a “continuing resolution” – the modern substitute for an actual appropriations bill – until the President agrees to negotiate about...
Well, who knows? After several weeks of this nonsense, House Republicans still can’t seem to articulate what it is that they want.
Meanwhile, the stakes have been raised. House Republicans are now suggesting that they won’t raise the debt ceiling – a once routine piece of legislation which basically says that the President can pay bills Congress has already authorized.
Blocking a “continuing resolution” is damaging, but survivable. Parts of the government have shut down, many people are inconvenienced, and some government employees are not allowed to work – though they will eventually be paid for not working.
But delaying an increase in the debt ceiling could – quite seriously – precipitate a sudden, global credit crisis. And seriously injure our America’s economy. For a century, U.S. bonds have been the safest investment in the world. Past generations of Americans labored hard to make that so – by making ours the strongest economy in the world.
If the US turns deadbeat – even for a few days – the result might be a worldwide depression. Or it might not.
But who wants to play around with that?
And who benefits – other than the ambitious Senator Cruz?
And maybe China.
Every sensible American – Democrat, independent, or Republican – knows this. Most Senate Republicans know this. A majority of House Republicans knows this.
But not, apparently, the Tea Party Republicans – and the handful of narcissistic billionaires who are their paymasters.
We’re witnessing a tantrum, pure and simple.
I write this as one whose proper political allegiance once lay with the progressive wing of the Republican Party. But Progressive Republicans have gone extinct, leaving me a man without a party.
America has long needed a third party represent the millions who still believe in the values of liberal-progressive Republicanism.
Meanwhile, we must reckon with a Republican Party which has lost the will to discipline a bratty minority which prefers tantrums to governing.
And a Speaker who lacks the courage to take them out behind the Capitol for a good spanking.