So. One of the things about being with My Party at this juncture in American political history is that My Party appears to be largely unified and the other appears to be in disarray. The Conservatives could justifiably use the reverse of Will Rogers’ line: they don’t consider themselves part of any organized political Party: they’re Republicans. And, you know, tee hee. Because we’ve been the disorganized wackos for long enough.
On the other hand, it’s perplexing to me, here on my side, because for much of the twentieth century My Party was disorganized and chaotic because the competing policy demands of its factions were real—in the short term, the demands of labor and of the environmental movement (f’r’ex) were at odds. There were real tensions between the anti-war faction and the anti-Communist faction, and of course between the very real regional priorities and preferences. Balance! The Party worked very well, of course, even with all the jokes.
At the moment, though, the Other Party seems to be utterly dysfunctional without having real factions. I mean, yes, there are factions, but where are the policy differences between them? Is there a significant difference on policy goals between Senator Cruz and Senator McConnell, or between Representative Bachmann and Representative Ryan? Not a difference in what they think they can accomplish, mind you, but in what they would do if they could? Is there a faction of the Republican Party that would not, for instance, abolish the Department of Education? Is there substantial support in that party for increasing federal support for unemployment insurance, or for keeping it at the same levels? Are there a lot of votes in that caucus against so-called tort reform? Are there a lot of votes for returning taxes to 90s-levels? Are there a whole slew of pro-choice Republicans in the Congress?
Even at the moment, when the party appears to be riven and the factions are sniping at each other in the press, I can’t see a lot of daylight between them. I’m not the only one to notice this. Jon Bernstein has been hocking about it for years. More recently, Mike Konczal over at the Washington Post Wonkblog writes that The Tea Party thinks it hates Wall Street. It doesn’t. There are others I can’t find at the moment, too, but also, there’s this from the Washington Post’s news article Senate leaders race to draft debt-limit bill after House effort collapses, by Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane:
He started the day by convening a 9 a.m. meeting of his rank and file, a session that opened with a prayerful group sing-along to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” But as Boehner began searching for items to attach to the debt-limit bill, his majority quickly disintegrated into squabbling ideological factions.
Boehner’s initial proposal was to include two provisions that would have given conservatives some small measure of satisfaction in exchange for ending the government shutdown and raising the debt limit. One would have delayed a tax on medical devices that helps finance the new health-care law. The other would have ended employer-provided health subsidies given to lawmakers and members of the executive branch, who are required to join the new health-care exchanges.
But conservatives quickly complained that it wasn’t enough. The bill would not cut spending, they said, or reform entitlement programs, or erase a clause in the health law that requires employers to provide coverage for contraception. And it clearly would not achieve their ultimate goal of ending the program they call Obamacare.
The squabbling ideological factions have, as far as I can tell, the same ideology as far as policy is concerned. The actual policies—cutting spending, reforming entitlement programs (or “reforming” “entitlement” programs) reducing contraception and repealing the Affordable Care Act—are all fully supported by the entire caucus. As for the earlier offers, it seems to me that conservatives are also united behind (a) reducing the total compensation of federal workers, and (2) not implementing new taxes. And as far as I can tell, they are very nearly united against paying for programs in general, but my point really isn’t to take cheap shots at the Other Party. My point is that the factions described as ideological don’t seem to have anything to do with political ideology at all.
Frankly, the difference as it looks from here is that some small number of legislators from the Other Party believe in following norms of behavior, the bulk are happy to violate norms of behavior as long as they get something out of it, and then there are a handful who seem (as I say, from my point of view) to believe in violating norms of behavior as a principle, even when it costs them.
Which sure doesn’t seem very Conservative to me.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,