In the autumn of 2010 I decided to stop following politics so closely, in part to focus on my fiction writing, but also because I was getting sick and tired of all the Tea Party nonsense and could see the handwriting on the wall in terms of how the midterm elections would turn out. I still kept half an ear on the news, though, since I needed to know what was going on for my teaching work and other reasons. It was in those pregnant weeks before the midterm elections that the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, famously declared that after the Republican landslide that was about to come, “The single most important thing [they] want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
Inter-party animosity is hardly something to generate headlines, but it is not, nor should it ever be, the primary guiding force of a politician, let alone a political party. Your primary objective, as an elected official, is to serve the needs of your constituents, whether you believe those needs to be increasing or decreasing the role of government in any particular area. This may ultimately result in other elected officials being voted out of office, but that is always a secondary goal, an effect of the policies you put into place as opposed to a cause. Even if your main goal, deep down, is to get rid of a politician you really despise, you at least put on a veneer that your primary goal is to put your policies into action. McConnell’s naked admission that Republicans were primarily interested in stopping Obama’s reelection efforts should have been a red flag to independent voters that Republicans didn’t deserve their vote, but the anti-Obama furor drummed up by the right, combined with apathy on the left thanks to Obama not acting strongly enough to rescue the working and middle classes from the recession, were too much for Democrats to overcome in 2010.
Republicans playing chicken with the debt ceiling in 2011, and other similar acts of brinkmanship, garnered the most attention after that election, but one of the (many, many) things that hasn’t received as much scrutiny as it deserves is just how little Republicans have actually done since the 2010 midterms. In the first congressional term since those midterms, fewer bills got passed than in any other congress in recorded history, less than a quarter of the number of bills the “Do-Nothing Congress” of the late 1940s. Part of the reason for this is that once Republicans took the house back over they promptly reinstated the ridiculously untaxing schedule that was a hallmark of their previous tenure leading the House, with the House of Representatives only scheduled to work 126 days this year. Worse yet, House Republicans are outright wasting what time they do spend in Washington by repeatedly and pointlessly voting to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act; this week marked the thirty-seventh time in the past thirty months House Republicans have voted to “kill Obamacare,” even though all these efforts were destined to die in the Senate, let alone overcome an inevitable Obama veto. I understand holding one vote for symbolic purposes and to get congresspeople on the record, but thirty-seven votes in less than two and a half years is nothing short of absurd, a head-smackingly obvious sign of how Republicans are more interested in playing petty games for their base’s amusement than in doing any actual business.
Americans didn’t seem to mind so much in President Clinton’s second term when Republicans went impeachment-crazy over the Monica Lewinsky thing, mostly because the economy was going gangbusters and people were so fascinated with the Internet that they weren’t noticing how much harder they were having to work to maintain their standard of living. We are far, far from those conditions right now. Even as corporate profits and the Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500 hit record highs, unemployment continues to move at a snail’s pace, and both working-class and middle-class Americans are still suffering the effects of the most recent recession because all that money corporations and their CEOs are making isn’t trickling down (not that it ever did). This is a time when strong government action to bolster the economy is needed, but instead of getting good action, or even bad action, now one of conservative America’s biggest think tanks is literally telling elected Republicans to do even less than they’ve already been doing, to stop doing the work they were elected to do in order to devote their time to fluffing up the aura of scandal surrounding President Obama right now.
To be sure, two very legitimate scandals broke this past week: Revelations that IRS agents illegally targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, and the US Attorney General’s office admitting to the Associated Press that they secretly subpoenaed the home and work phone records of AP employees in what, at first blush, appears to be a massive overreach of power. Although there’s no serious suggestion that President Obama was personally involved in either of these scandals, they still need to be investigated and resolved thoroughly. (I don’t like how some liberals have tried to smokescreen the IRS scandal by pointing out how ridiculous the tax laws are in allowing political groups to get tax-exempt status; that’s a legitimate point that needs to be addressed soon, but conservatives deserve time to voice their outrage right now.) Unfortunately, these legitimate scandals are getting obscured by the very Republicans who should be the most eager to pursue them because of the false scandals they’ve ginned up for their bloodthirsty base — everything from Benghazi to Umbrella-gate (no, I am not kidding about that last one) — to the degree that trying to keep track of all the ridiculous claims the far-right is making about Obama is now a full-time job.
That’s the thing, because there are already lots of people whose full-time job is pretty much fanning the flames about all bad things, real and perceived, about President Obama and Democrats. From talk radio, to Fox News Channel, to the rapidly-growing beyond-the-fringe efforts like The Blaze and InfoWars — outlets based on such absurd paranoia and conspiracy theories that they give tinfoil hat aficionados a bad name — America already has more than enough people working to discredit Obama and the Democratic Party in the media and push a radical conservative agenda. If more people want to get into that business — and I guess I can’t blame them because clearly there’s a market for it, and people need to make money — then maybe they should go into that as a full-time job.
If you are an elected member of the House of Representatives or the Senate, though, you already have a full-time job, one that you have taken an oath of office to fulfill. It may not get the hoopla of a presidential inauguration, but it is no less important or sincere of an oath. If you no longer want to perform that job because you are more interested in trying to scandalize another elected official than do the people’s business — the business you were elected to do — then you should resign your office and allow someone who will do that job to take your place. Say what you will about Sarah Palin — I certainly have — but at least she had the decency to end her tenure as Governor of Alaska when she decided she’d rather be a right-wing media darling and cultivate her little cult of personality than do a governor’s job. Similarly, the conservative think tank responsible for this “Hey Congressional Republicans, stop passing bills so you can slam Obama all the time” missive is headed by Jim DeMint, who left his job as a Senator from South Carolina months ago in order to lead the think tank.
It’s no great secret that Republicans, starting shortly after the Reagan Revolution, deliberately sabotaged government departments they didn’t like by cutting their funding and appointing people who weren’t interested in handling the duties that those departments are tasked to handle. When Democrats got back in power, Republicans then said that these departments needed to be cut even more (if not eliminated) because “clearly” they weren’t effective (because they were sabotaged), and as Republicans and Democrats have traded power in Washington this cycle has no less than devastated numerous government offices. If Republicans are going to pull what is effectively the same tactic on an entire branch of government, then it may soon become impossible for Congress to do, literally, anything.
It would be bad enough if this were being done in secret, but the fact that conservatives are so publicly and unapologetically considering this demands strong and immediate action just to ensure the ability of our government to function on the most basic of levels. Any elected official, regardless of party, who willfully refuses to perform their job in order to spend more time bolstering a partisan media firestorm should be impeached for dereliction of duty and refusal to perform the duties they swore an oath to perform. If that means impeaching every Republican in the House and the Senate, then so be it. They’re the ones who are so eager to turn everything into a scandal, so let’s see how they like beings the targets of one for a change.