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Thursday, December 8, 2016

This too shall pass. In the bipolar Gong Show of Washington politics, it’s the Republicans’ turn. Count on them to opt for televised spectacle over governing. It’s what they do.

You think a guy like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will be dutifully attending committee meetings and painstakingly crafting legislation? Not as long as President Obama’s still in the White House and there are TV cameras on the premises.

There’s actually an editorial in the influential conservative magazine National Review entitled “The Governing Trap.

It argues for two more years of Animal House Republicanism: “If voters come to believe that a Republican Congress and a Democratic president are doing a fine job of governing together, why wouldn’t they vote to continue the arrangement in 2016?”

See, it’s not about helping you or me; it’s about power.

Speaking of 2016, does anybody imagine the pendulum’s stopped swinging? Here’s the deal: the GOP made big Senate gains in 2004, 2010 and 2014, the Democrats in 2006, 2008 and 2012.

Comes the 2016 presidential election year, 24 of 34 incumbent senators will be Republicans — seven in states that Obama won twice.

Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich is so old he can remember back when Rush Limbaugh’s personal hero became Speaker of the House:

“I was in the Clinton administration Election Day 1994 when Democrats lost both houses of Congress and Newt Gingrich became king of the Hill,” he writes. “It was horrible. But you know what? It created all sorts of opportunities. It smoked Republicans out. They could no longer hide behind blue-dog Democrats. Americans saw them for who they were. Gingrich became the most hated man in America. The 1994 election also marked the end of the coalition of conservative Republicans and southern Democrats that had controlled much of Congress since the end of the New Deal.”

Alas, Gingrich’s demise took several years. He was simply outmaneuvered politically by Bill Clinton, while widespread exposure to his grating personality and gigantic ego eventually forced him out. The Clinton impeachment doomed him.

Meanwhile, however, those blue-dog Democrats have nearly all become Republicans. I’d argue that the demise of regionally and ideologically diverse American political parties — i.e. of liberal Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats — has brought paralysis to Washington. The merger of GOP economic primitivism with Southern-style fundamentalist religiosity has badly damaged bipartisanship.

Always and everywhere, certitude is the enemy of compromise. After all, if God says that cutting tycoons’ income taxes infallibly leads to higher revenues and enhanced prosperity, it would be sinful to notice that it’s never actually happened in the visible world.

Gingrich got elected due to the Clinton tax increases of 1993, which every single Republican in Congress voted against amid universal predictions of doom. The actual result turned out to be 25 million new jobs and a balanced budget.

What’s more, does anybody remember that the supposed rationale for President Bush’s 2001 tax cuts was that paying down the national debt too soon might stifle investment? Certainly nobody in the Tea Party does.

Meanwhile, count me among those who think that even “red state” Democrats who ran away from President Obama as if he had Ebola made a big mistake. (Remember Ebola? It’s so last week, I know. However, I await apologies from readers of the Chicken Little persuasion who objected to my writing that politicizing a disease was contemptible and the danger of a serious outbreak extremely small.)

But back to Obama. It’s true that his overall approval rating stands at 43 percent. Also, however, that the Republican Congress checks in at 13 percent. The president remains quite popular among the kinds of Democrats who mostly sat out the 2014 election.

True, many voters don’t understand how deep and dangerous a hole the U.S. economy had fallen into in 2008; nor that unemployment’s dropping sharply; the stock market’s more than doubled; and that the Federal budget deficit’s dropped from 9.8 percent to a fiscally sustainable 2.9 percent of GDP on Obama’s watch. But they’ll never know if Democrats don’t tell them.

Probably a candidate like Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor was doomed anyway. But how could anybody imagine the rope-a-dope tactic would work? The same is true regarding Obamacare. Why not praise the law’s popular features and talk about fixing the rest? The Republicans have no health insurance plan except back to the bad old days of “pre-existing conditions” and get sick/get canceled.

On the defensive, Democrats have articulated no persuasive plan for fixing what New York Times economics writer Dave Leonhardt calls “The Great Wage Slowdown.

“Median inflation-adjusted income last year,” he writes, “was still $2,100 lower than when President Obama took office in 2009 — and $3,600 lower than when President George W. Bush took office in 2001.”

Well, they’d better find one. Meanwhile, the GOP/Animal House plan is well known: Cut Scrooge McDuck’s taxes; keep yelling Obama, Obama, Obama.

Photo: Peter Stevens via Flickr

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