A new Washington Post article out on Friday has a hint at what issues Republicans will be running on in November.
Interviews with GOP strategists and pollsters regarding their advice for politicians running is to not go into issues. To stay away from them. Consultants are arguing that public anger, if properly stoked, alone can carry the party over the finish line. In their view, getting bogged down in the issues is a distraction and even a potential liability.
In a nutshell, the idea is to have no ideas. Not surprising, given the general tenor taken by the Republicans to date. But the real question is: will Americans notice?
Minority Leader John Boehner revealed even more of that “strategy” today, saying that he would be supportive of a moratorium on ALL government regulation. Not just oil drilling, not just finance reform, not just health care. No, he wants a moratorium on all of it. What he Is essentially saying is, he intends to vote against any piece of legislation that involves regulations, regardless of how beneficial it is to the American people.
The there’s the 53-page missive from the conservative-dominated US Chamber of Commerce that was given to the White House, explaining all the things they want – less taxes for business, less taxes for the wealthy, less regulation – the standbys of big business.
So here’s what I see. While the Republicans want to tell you that they want what’ s best for the country, they are making it as painfully obvious as they can that their real focus is on what’s best for their already fat wallets. Congress critters make $174,000 per year. The median household income in the US, as of 2008 was 52,000. They like making more than three times the median, and the perks that go with it. Oh, and in Boehner’s district, the median income is even lower – 43,753. So when he talks about tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, he’s not talking about his constituents. He’s talking about his buddies on Wall St.
No, the plan for the Republicans is not about progress. It’s not about ideas. It’s about obstruction. It’s about saying “NO”. Because they don’t care about the average American. They care about their wealthy benefactors. But the real question is: will Americans notice?
Look, the Democrats are not innocent in this. Rahm Emanuel, the current White House Chief of Staff, had a similar strategy in 2006. In his case, it came down to a simple formula: spend 80 percent of your time attacking the other side, and 20 percent talking about issues. The goal? Keep the other guys on the defensive, and while they’re trying to counter, you can drive home your issues. And it was an effective strategy.
But here’s the difference: Emanuel’s formula still included talking about issues. Not a whole lot, but it was there. The new Republican strategy? Don’t talk issues at all. No solutions, no answers, no plans. Just attack, attack, attack.
In the Senate, the plan is even simpler. Say no. That’s it. Again, no plan, no solutions. Just say no. And no again.
It’s a tricky gamble. It relies on Democrats doing what they traditionally do – stick to the issues. And they do so often to their detriment. In their desire to make sure people understand the “why” of what they are doing, they don’t connect with the emotional side of the issues. And this election season, emotions are running high. And with good reason.
Unemployment is still high, and the economy still has a long way to go. Americans have seen Wall St. bailed out, auto manufacturers bailed out, the greatest ecological disaster to hit the United States – the list is long.
But the economy HAS improved. Jobless rates have fallen and jobs have been created. Bailout money is being paid back. In addition, finance reform has passed, healthcare legislation has passed, and there are signs of improvement. But the real question is: Will Americans notice?
That’s really the key to the elections this fall. Will Americans see what is going on in Washington, or continue to listen to rhetoric? Will they ask the questions that need to be asked? Will issues matter, or will the Republican strategy work?
Of course, the issues SHOULD matter. Regardless of your political stripe, you should be able to tell where the candidates stand. Do they stand for tax cuts for the wealthy? Financial reform? Expanded offshore drilling or a moratorium on new wells?
The actual issues are irrelevant, as long as they have an importance in your life. What is relevant is how the candidates address these issues. And from the sound of it, the Republicans have no intention of letting you find out before November.
So how did we get here? How did we get to where winning the an election is more important than doing what’s best for the country? And how did we get to where a group can essentially hold legislation hostage?
A lot of folks would point to the filibuster. Common wisdom is that the filibuster was designed into the Senate rules so that the minority party could have some recourse against the majority. Turns out, common wisdom ain’t so wise.
The filibuster was actually created by accident. It was never intended. It was born from advice by Vice President Aaron Burr in 1806. He had noted that there were many rules in the Senate that were duplicates or had no useful or practical purpose, and he suggested that the Senate go through and clean up its rules. The Senate took his advice, and quite inadvertently, the filibuster was born.
Keep in mind, there is no filibuster in the House. That’s because of a basic rule referred to as the “previous question” rule. Basically, at any point, debate on an issue can be closed by someone asking for a vote as to whether the House can move on to the “main question”, essentially ending debate. That rule also existed in the Senate, but was deleted during the Burr-inspired “clean-up” of the rules.
It actually took decades for legislators to figure out that they could use this inadvertent deletion to hold up legislation. Until that time, senators expected debate, and expected it to end with an outcome. But now, there was no good way to end the filibuster.
Now since the Senate makes its own rules, they could make changes to end the filibuster. But those efforts were themselves filibustered. They can still change it. But that requires a 2/3 majority to pass, which of course, is unlikely to ever happen. Why, because the party in the minority is never going to give up the power to delay. It’s not in their interest.
So what can be done? Can these rules be changed? Yes – but changing them immediately may not be the answer. One idea that has been proposed is that a bi-partisan committee be put together to examine and streamline the Senate rules, with a specific caveat – the rules will not go into effect for at least six years after they are ratified. Why six years? Because no party, no matter how confident, can predict who will hold the majority and minority that far out. So you remove the incentive to make rule changes that only benefit one side. If you make a rule that benefits the minority party, and you happen to be in the majority party, the rule isn’t going to work too well for you. So by delaying implementation, you encourage fair, even-handed rules.
Will this ever happen? Probably not with the atmosphere currently in Washington. It will take some courageous individuals to push this type of change forward, individuals who truly want to make the process work more smoothly, for the benefit of the country and not the party. I’m not sure those people are in office right now.
Removing stalling tactics, correcting the accident known as a filibuster, streamlining the legislative process in the Senate – these are all good starts. But none of them makes any difference unless the electorate pays attention. When the people who can really effect change – the voters – are more willing to listen to gratuitous sound bites than fact, we face an uphill climb to change. The concept of civil discourse, of real debate, is fading fast. Instead, the conversation has degraded to name-calling, to slinging half-truths – or untruths in many cases. And that is exactly what Republicans are counting on with their new strategy. Forget progress, just stand in the way, and make the other guys defend everything. Don’t present new ideas, or try to improve anything – just obstruct. Exaggerate, lie, make up things out of thin air – anything but actually deal with the issues. That’s the strategy.
This strategy should, by all rights, fail. You’d expect it to, if people put even a little effort into examining the issues, and the positions. If you don’t have a position other than “no”, no solution, then why on Earth should anyone follow you or vote for you? That should be an automatic red flag. But the GOP strategists are counting on a simple fact – that you’ll get more riled up, more motivated, by catchy phrases or simple slogans – and you’ll ignore the facts. That you’ll get angry enough that you won’t ask the next question: What’s YOUR solution. That’s the question they really don’t want asked, because they don’t have an answer.
So here’s the deal – every time you hear a politician, from either side, saying a piece of legislation is bad, should be repealed, etc., ask the next question – What’s YOUR solution? Look for that answer. Demand it. If they don’t have one, then you can pretty much bet that their opposition has nothing to do with the legislation and everything to do with power. If they have a good solution – that’s awesome. But if they don’t – Danger Will Robinson.
The key has to be that we need to insist that the people we vote into office are working for the betterment of the country. Not special interests, not big business or big oil, but all of us. We need to demand that they earn that generous salary they get. And that they do more than just say no. If we can consistently do that, we’ll get better legislation, the country will move forward. But the real question is: Will Americans notice?
We’ll be right back.