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Posted by on Sep 23, 2009 in Health, Politics, Society | 38 comments

Republicans and Governance

Ezra Klein comments today on a new NBC-WSJ poll that, in my view (and Klein’s, obviously) suggests some interesting things about the GOP style of governance. Here is the part that he quotes:

In addition, 45% approve of Obama’s handling of health care, while 46% disapprove, which is up from his 41%-47% score last month. By comparison, just 21% approve of the Republican Party’s handling of the issue.

And here is the next paragraph, from the First Read piece reporting the poll:

And who will get blamed if health care doesn’t get passed this year? Per the poll, 10% say Obama, 16% say congressional Democrats, and 37% say congressional Republicans.

The reporter-blogger at First Read, Mark Murray, focuses on the most obvious conclusion: that Pres. Obama’s poll numbers on the health care issue have gotten better. But there is a more subtle take-away, which is what these numbers indicate about Republican attitudes toward governance:

The Republican Party’s strategy against health-care reform has been something of a kamikaze mission: destroy the bill through a strategy that also destroys the party, at least in the short-term. The hope is that if they win the war, they’ll be in better shape come the 2010 midterms. Maybe that’ll work. Maybe it won’t.

But if it does work, it won’t leave them in a better position to govern. What Republicans — and, when they’re out of power, Democrats — are doing is essentially discrediting the political process. Piece by piece, bill by bill. The argument, essentially, is that politicians are untrustworthy and Congress is corrupt and interest groups are trying to do horrible things to you and problems are not being solved.

Except that Democrats don’t do this. I disagree with Klein on that point. If anything, Democrats do the opposite when they are in the minority — bend over backward to accommodate Republican intransigence for the sake of getting some kind of substantive legislation passed (or, if one is being unkind, because they are terrified of Republican bullying).

One could say that this is because Democrats are more interested in the ultimate goal — making public policy or law — than in having their way on every point. But I think it’s more than that. It’s not so much that Republicans are less interested in the ultimate goal than they are in “kamikaze obstructionism,” as Klein puts it. It’s that “kamikaze obstructionism” is their ultimate  goal.

Several of Klein’s readers made this point very ably. For example, rt42, quoting the line, “”Republicans may think they’ve found a clever strategy in making it hard for Democrats to govern, but what they’re really doing is making it nearly impossible for anyone to govern,” responds,  “I believe the GOP regards that as a feature, rather than a bug.”

Andrew Long, second in line, writes:

yes, but the sad truth underlying all of this is that the Republicans don’t *want* to govern or to solve problems. They simply want to lower taxes and dismantle entitlements and most of the federal government. That’s the fatal asymmetry inherent in our modern political system.

And there is this, from thescusspeaks:

I think it is very revealing that you said they hope to win the war (meaning stopping health care reform). I don’t think that is the war for republicans, it is the battle. Winning elections is the war for republicans. Passing good policy, helping actual people, that is the point for (many) democrats. That’s the war for us. Winning elections is the battle, that helps us fight the war. It is all backwards with republicans. For them, policy only matters to the degree that passing it or stopping it means they win elections.

Thomas Frank’s recently published book, The Wrecking Crew, lays out this argument (that Republicans are not interested in governance, only in discrediting and ultimately destroying government) very meticulously and convincingly.