If you’ve been surfing the intertubes lately, you’ve probably read something about Jeb Bush criticizing the Republican Party. But what, exactly, is he saying? In Michael Gerson’s column today, he has an interesting quote from the Jebster.

This failure of pragmatism is Bush’s chief criticism of politics in the capital, a case he thinks the press has distorted. “The general thinking among liberal media is that the Republican Party is too conservative. That’s not my point. We have a time of great national need, but we’re lacking the ability to find common ground.”

Bush, who was a decidedly conservative, tax-cutting governor, is not calling for ideological moderation in the tradition of Nelson Rockefeller. He is defending the possibility that conservatives and liberals might find productive compromise on the debt crisis. Cooperation to avoid disaster is not the same thing as spinelessness.

I think this opens an interesting avenue for debate. If Jeb has hit on a real distinction, we might get somewhere. If he’s created a distinction that doesn’t actually exist, then we’re hopelessly stuck with gridlock.

It is possible for both parties to be extremely ideological and diametrically opposed to each other on virtually every issue under the Sun, and to still have government function even in times of shared power. But there has to be a consensus on the idea that the party of the presidency ultimately has to frame the budget.

When we elect a president for a four-year term, we expect them to lay out a vision and try to implement it. If they try to do something really big like enact a major overhaul of our health care system or privatize Social Security, they can and should expect to meet strong resistance. But if they want to spend more money on education or shift money to clean energy projects or give new benefits to veterans or spend a little more on Indian affairs, there should be great deference in those areas.

What the Republicans have done since Obama became president violates this consensus. In particular, their behavior since they won back control of the House of Representatives has been at odds with how our government should work. Through their total unwillingness to support any aspect of the president’s vision and their total opposition to any compromise on a budget deal, they are trying to radically change the form and structure of our government when they only control one half of one-third of our government. This is wrong on at least two levels. It’s wrong because they are not showing a due deference and respect for the office of the president, and it’s wrong because they don’t have the power to do what they’re attempting to do. By acting as if they do have that much power, they simply grind the gears of Congress to a halt, making it impossible to solve problems and doing grave damage to the reputation and credit rating of our country.

The question is, are they doing this because they’re too conservative, or are they doing this for unrelated reasons? Can you remain a staunch conservative in terms of where you stand on the issues, and yet still recognize that the president should have some room to govern and try out solutions to the problems that crop during his term in office?

Personally, I think the Republican Party has become so ideological that you can’t make Jeb’s distinction. Refusing to compromise is just as important to the modern GOP as opposing abortion rights.

In a very basic sense, the GOP’s current stance vis-a-vis the president is irrational. They took a pledge never to raise taxes and they are insisting on deep spending cuts to address the budget deficit. As a result, they are attempting to get a Democratic president to oversee the radical downsizing of the federal government. Why should they think that their grand vision would be endorsed and enacted by a Democrat? If Obama agreed to their demands, he’d be a better conservative than Ronald Reagan ever dreamed of being. By behaving in this irrational manner, they’re doing real damage to our institutions, our economy, and our country. Jeb Bush sees this, and it’s nice that he’s speaking out. I just don’t know that he is justified in saying that the problem isn’t the conservatism but the lack of pragmatism. I think those two things go together hand in glove.

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