When ‘Conservatives’ Become Radicals
If the self-styled Republican “Freedom Caucus” understood the first thing about the United States Constitution they profess to revere, they’d recognize that it’s a conservative document purposely crafted to frustrate radicals like them. As men of the 18th century, the Founding Fathers were deeply suspicious of what they called “enthusiasm,” most commonly defined as God-intoxicated certitude.
Certitude of the kind recently expressed by former Arkansas governor and putative GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee: “The race for Speaker of the House is not about Kevin McCarthy, it’s about burning the corrupt Washington political machine to the ground and rebuilding our country.”
Even granting that Huckabee, a Baptist preacher, was speaking metaphorically, his voice is that of a fanatic or a child. During the 1960s of legend and song, only the crackpot leftists of the SDS and the Progressive Labor Party talked about setting fires. Now it’s old white codgers listening to Mark Levin and shaking their fists at Fox News.
Huckabee’s not a “conservative” at all, except in the contorted meaning of the term brought into use by the Freedom Caucus, Chicken Little Brigade, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week. He’s also not a real presidential candidate. Huckabee has no more chance of being nominated than your humble, obedient servant here, who rarely leaves the farm. Like several Republican candidates, what he’s really about is peddling his dreadful ghost-written books. Presumably Huckabee himself knows all that, even if his gullible followers do not.
But let GOP-oriented New York Times columnist David Brooks explain: “Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic, and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple.”
It was bad enough under President Bill Clinton, a moderate Southerner. But the election of Barrack Hussein Obama, a black man with a multicultural background and a funny name, drove the Chicken Little Brigade clear around the bend. The willingness of publicity seekers like Donald Trump to traffic in conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and religion did the rest.
“Obama created the Tea Party,” a Republican lobbyist told The Nation’s William Grieder. “We told people that Obama was a dangerous socialist who was going to wreck America and he had to be stopped, when really we knew he was a moderate Democrat, not all that radical… But they believed us.”
The “Freedom Caucus” not only can’t govern, they don’t appear to believe in governance. Hence the 58 futile show votes to repeal Obamacare, which accomplished absolutely nothing in real political terms. “This hell-no caucus — the degree of purity that they’re looking for doesn’t exist,” former Senate GOP leader Trent Lott of Mississippi told the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty. “I’m sure they’re nice people, but Washington is not a place where you can come in off the street and make it work.”
Trent Lott is a Mississippi Republican, but he’s not “conservative” enough for the Chicken Little Brigade! But then Lott accepts political reality: Obamacare repeal can’t pass in the Senate, and even if it did, President Obama — re-elected in 2012 by more than 5 million votes — would veto it.
See, that’s what we were all supposed to have learned in ninth-grade civics: That the whole point of having three branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — was to prevent the concentration of power, to make change incremental, and compromise essential.
As former Rep. Barney Frank puts it in a thoughtful essay in Politico: “We are at any given time governed by the results of the past three elections. The House of Representatives in Washington today contains only people elected in 2014, but they share power with a president elected in 2012, and senators chosen one-third in 2010, one-third in 2012 and one-third in 2014.”
But then if you’ve read this far, you already knew that. Unable to win by normal political means, the “Freedom Caucus” proposes government by televised melodrama: threatening yet another government shutdown or even a default on the national debt — risking a financial crisis far worse than 2008 — to blackmail the president into doing its bidding on issues from Obamacare to Planned Parenthood.
Cable TV news ratings would go through the roof! Until the roof fell in, that is. However, the U.S. Constitution allows for a simple remedy: There are a whole lot more Democrats in the House of Representative than “Freedom Caucus” members. All that’s necessary is for Speaker Boehner to exhibit the political courage to cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi, scheduling votes on issues of bipartisan agreement such as the debt limit.
And the show would be over — just like that.
Photo: House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) speak to reporters at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington October 7, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron