As Politico correctly points out, there is a logic behind the Republicans’ intransigent behavior. What’s missing from their analysis, however, is any mention of the fact that the Republicans’ created this logic themselves. It is true that gerrymandered districts have created a situation where the vast majority of House members have more to fear from a primary than from a general election against the opposing party, which makes it extremely painful to compromise with the other side. But the problem has been exacerbated by the unhinged rhetoric the Republicans used to demonize the president and his policies.
On Friday, Jan. 29, 2010, the president warned about this during his appearance at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. In responding to a question from Tennessee backbencher Marsha Blackburn, the president made the following observations in the context of the ongoing health care debate:
Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker, and, certainly you don’t agree with Tom Daschle on much, but that’s not a radical bunch. But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. No, I mean, that’s how you guys — (applause) — that’s how you guys presented it.
And so I’m thinking to myself, well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist — no, look, I mean, I’m just saying, I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans — is similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.
So all I’m saying is, we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.
I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.
And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It’s not just on your side, by the way — it’s on our side, as well. This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.
Setting aside the superfluous and inaccurate both-sides-do-it-equally coda of that statement, the truth of his argument has never been more clear. The Republicans have painted themselves into a box. We are at the point, now, that the Speaker of the House does not have the ability to bring his caucus along to make any compromises on the budget. And the simplest explanation for this is that bullshit is responsible. The Republicans have fed their base so much bullshit that they’ve crippled themselves. They are now literally buried in their own bullshit. Bullshit about taxes and revenues, bullshit about climate change and the environment, bullshit about guns and ammunition, bullshit about socialism, bullshit about the character of the president, bullshit about immigration and terrorism.
They did it to themselves. I’d like to lend them a hand and help them shovel their way out, but I don’t think they’ll let me help. One of the reasons that I think a deal is in the best interests of the country (depending on details, obviously) is that it is the best opportunity, and maybe the only opportunity, we have to dismantle this dungheap.