After the sound and the fury, the public disdain for government — particularly for Congress — the high stakes and looming fiscal disaster and $6 billion, we end up where we began — with Barack Obama in the White House, Democrats with a modest majority in the Senate, and Republicans retaining control of the House.
It appears we are back to the same ingredients that produced the least productive and most destructive Congress in memory, whose public approval plummeted to historic lows. That reality is reinforced by House Speaker John Boehner’s claim of a mandate for House Republicans even as Obama won a sweeping electoral victory for a second term.
But appearances can be deceiving. In this case, they are.
The Republican approach for Obama’s first term was simple — use every available tool of obstruction to hamper and delegitimize his presidency. They opposed anything and everything he proposed, even policies they had recently embraced. The GOP used the filibuster to defeat, obstruct or discredit his every initiative. They took the debt ceiling hostage after their 2010 election victory, which lowered America’s credit rating and slowed the economic recovery, and gave us the “fiscal cliff.” They killed every serious effort in Congress to strengthen the economy, increase jobs and pass a balanced package of deficit reduction and debt stabilization.
The GOP’s unified opposition during a time of economic crisis was only the most recent stage in its evolution from a mainstream conservative party to a radical insurgency bent on undoing a century’s worth of public policy going back to Theodore Roosevelt. The Republican Party has become one dismissive of the economic imperative to stimulate demand in the wake of a financial meltdown and severe recession, passionately committed to the efficacy of tax cuts under all circumstances, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, scornful of compromise, and contemptuous of the legitimacy of its political opposition. While neither party is pure or immune from ruthless partisan maneuver, it is the Republican Party that is the driving force behind today’s dysfunctional politics.
This reality could be one of the best-kept secrets in American politics, judging by most reporting. The mainstream media, handcuffed by harsh partisan criticism and economic pressures, has largely ignored this. Instead, journalists found refuge in a false equivalence between the parties. The most recent example was a “60 Minutes” piece on the broken Senate that blamed everyone equally — gliding past the unprecedented and deliberate misuse of the filibuster as a weapon of obstruction.