So Republicans failed, they gave in, they gave up, they caved, they blew it, they wussed out like a bunch of cowards. At least that’s how a lot liberal news outlets treated it when Republicans decided not to shut down the Department of Homeland Security for a side issue.
Huffington Post described Speaker Boehner’s actions as, “blinking.” Slate described a scenario where Republicans, “cave” which is a scenario that is good for every single person in America. This is sadly the same descriptions used by the most radical and destructive Tea Partiers and far right news outlets. This is not a productive approach. Unproductive approaches should be left to the experts in the Tea Party.
You just don’t chastise a hostage taker for deciding against killing a hostage. You don’t negotiate with a guy with a bomb strapped to his chest, wait for him to take his finger off the button, and then call him a coward for taking his finger off the button. For strapping a bomb to his chest sure, but not for deciding against blowing us all up.
Since the Tea Party took power in the Senate there’s been a nearly endless parade of poor decisions. These decisions are not just poor for America, but for the Republican Party as well. They’ve spent nearly all of their post-election political capital on efforts that are not just foolish from a policy standpoint, but from a political one as well. Neither the Keystone Pipeline nor the DHS shutdown was ever even slightly suspected of being possibly successful from the start. The Iran letter and the Netanyahu speech embarrassed the country on the world stage and failed to actually accomplish anything.
Let’s focus on the DHS shutdown however. The idea was to stick a rider into the DHS funding bill that would prevent the executive action allowing thousands of mostly refugee children to remain in America as non-citizens. This played out contentiously for a few weeks until eventually the adults in the Republican Party decided that was enough of this game. They had made the token foolish short sighted effort the Tea Party insists they make but we had gotten dangerously close to actually damaging the country so they stopped. If that sounds familiar it should. A few years ago the government shutdown because the Tea Party insisted that a budget gets passed that also ended Obamacare. Though many Tea Partiers argued it was actually Obama’s fault or Harry Reid’s fault America largely did not buy it after months of Republicans enthusiastically cheering on a shutdown. The shutdown not only hurt millions of Americans financially but also cost our government millions of dollars due to the inefficiencies it created.
Furthermore, it hurt the Republican Party a great deal politically. Following the shutdown Gallup had the Republican Party polling at the lowest level of any party in the history of Gallup’s polling of that issue. The reason is the Tea Party takes the issues not as a matter of trying to accomplish one thing or the other, not even as a matter of political gamesmanship, but as a matter of pride. They want everything they want right now and nothing else is acceptable. To accept anything else is betrayal, cowardice. It’s not a matter of policy or politics; it’s a matter of pride.
Because of that approach it’s led our congress to put America in a position of hurting itself more than any issue that was up for debate might have. It’s essentially not liking one of your roommates and therefore blowing up your apartment. Maybe one of your roommate’s insistence on a certain furniture orientation is annoying to you and maybe you’re not in a position to change the furniture. Could be frustrating, sure. There are certain merits to each of your positions let’s say. Both furniture orientations however are superior to flipping over all the furniture and throwing a fit.
Let’s take a moment to consider how Republicans used to claim to hate earmarks, pork, and riders but now they’re willing to flip the chessboard over earmarks, pork, and riders. Considered? Ok, moving on.
Let’s say your roommate talks you down from the chair flipping. “Look, the lease is in my name, the furniture sticks, don’t flip it. I know you don’t like it but we all have to live here.” You accept and move on. But then … “Haha! Wooooo! You totally caved! I am the furniture king! You got nothing out of this!” How are you going to react? How are the other roommates? Will it begin to be a you v. the leaseholder instead of you v. all the roommates? Are you both going to be the jerks instead of just you? Ok, enough analogy.
From the Tea Party perspective these tiny battles that risk great damage are matters of pride. Not damaging the country for these matters is equivalent to defeat for them in the face of communism or whatever catchphrase they’re using at that moment. In reality, these efforts are bad for America and they don’t know what communism means.
America understands that. The DHS shutdown was not Republicans versus Obama, it was Tea Party versus America, sanity, and democratic process. The adults in the Republican party preventing this pointless damage is not a victory for Democrats, it’s a victory for America. Our threshold for success has become so low in the Tea Party era that not shooting our toes off is cause for celebration.
It’s truly a sad state that not voluntarily doing something pointlessly ill-advised as a country is seen as a triumph. We haven’t ended poverty, saved lives, doubled our GDP growth, reached another planet, or ended tyranny the world over. We just didn’t punch our own face. So calm down.
Besides the sad state of considering this a victory, it also frames the argument on their destructive terms. We’re playing chicken with America in the middle. It doesn’t matter who wins, or even that America doesn’t get smashed. We shouldn’t be playing this game in the first place. It’s ridiculous.
The ‘McConnell caves’ and ‘Boehner gives in’ headlines only promote the narrative that lives in the Tea Party mind. This is a narrative we should be fighting back on, not accepting. Even moderate news outlets have begun to pick up on this language. Caving/giving in/giving up/backing down/cowardice are phrases that should never, ever be associated with doing the right thing or a result that is good for our country, or rather not bad. Republicans didn’t fail. They failed to fail. That’s a good thing, not for Democrats, but for everyone including Republicans.
Politically, Democrats would be better off if Republicans did repeatedly shut everything down for side issues. They were willing to put American lives at risk in order to send a bunch of children back to the areas they fled from. They essentially were going to put lives at risk for the sake of putting lives at risk. They decided not to. They should be congratulated, in a sad sort of way, not insulted, or at least not for deciding against. They should be chastised for attempting or considering it in the first place, not for abandoning it.
What it comes down to is that calling it caving is arguing the matter on the terms of the most radical, far right Tea Party Republicans. In the modern era of cable news its all the more dangerous to argue something dangerous on the terms of the dangerous. Furthermore, this is a time when the far right is simply contrarian a lot of the time, they’ve demonstrated their willingness to damage this country so long as it also might damage, or even slightly annoy, the President or Democrats.
This approach is just flat out a strategic mistake, not for Democrats, but for America. It’s a type of shortsightedness and self-righteousness that should be reserved for the Tea Party. Let them be the immature ones, it hasn’t done them any good thus far (Name one policy goal they’ve achieved in the last 5 years) and it won’t do Democrats or America any good either. So next time we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot feel free to describe it as accepting reality or realizing your error, but stop calling it caving.
by Zack Goncz
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