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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Party Of Less Than Nothing

One of our favorite writing colleagues is David E. Phillips. 
He is always on the mark, and does it with style, so 
with his permission, we share his work with you. Enjoy.

David E. Phillips

Republicans may not be ready to admit it, but they probably lost the race for the White House in 2016 last night.

The bold executive action announced last night by President Obama on immigration has put the GOP in a terrible box. Oh sure, there is risk for the administrations here as well. While the policy the President unveiled last night that delays deportations, protects up to 5 million undocumented workers, and generally looks for a more humane way forward, may be popular, the process is not. Americans generally don’t like the idea of a President circumventing congress to establish policy, even when–like here–it’s legal.

The President made a nod in this direction last night when he pointed out that if the Republican Party did not like what he was doing, they could fix that. As he put it, “Pass a bill.” It was a deft move by the President and a clear challenge to the GOP. One that I suspect they will do their best to avoid and simply turn their focus back on the President and challenge his unilateral move by doing the usual clanging of pots and pans that produces noises like “emperor,” “king,” “illegal” and “unconstitutional.” There may be short-term benefits to this strategy, but long-term, the peril is more likely to be owned by the offended party.

The truth of the matter is, the President has much less to lose. His party needed to come through for their Hispanic constituency and make good on the promise of immigration reform. One could argue that, if anything, this is long overdue. Candidate Obama promised reform by the end of his first term. The closest he and the Democrats came was a failed effort at getting the Dream Act passed that would protect the undocumented who were brought here as children by their parents. The President showed patience–perhaps too much–in allowing the Senate to craft a bipartisan bill that passed over 18 months ago, but languishes in the House to this day.

Many–including myself–wanted the President to do this before the midterms. The President delayed this action in an effort to protect vulnerable Democrats up for election in red states. As anyone who watched the results of the most recent election knows, it made no difference. As is far too typical of the Democratic Party, they made the decision to attempt to mitigate the zeal of their opposition as opposed to inspiring their base. The cost of this backward thinking was a terrible turnout and the loss of the Senate.

However, now the President is behaving like a free man. The GOP may have taken congress, and his approval rating may be underwater, but he’s not running again. To put it another way, there is little left to lose, so why not do the right thing and see what happens? Which is exactly what the President did last night.

At this point, the greatest headache for the President going forward is that this maneuver will result in the GOP attempting to make life miserable for him over the next two years. Does anyone believe this wasn’t going to be the case anyway? Last night on MSNBC, former adviser to John McCain and network analyst, Steve Schmidt declared that the President’s executive action destroyed any chance of the new congress passing comprehensive immigration reform. I had to wonder if Schmidt–often a sane voice from the right–had taken leave of his faculties. Does he really believe there was any chance of that happening with a new congress that is likely to be more emboldened, obstinate, and republican-y? Like I said, I kind of like Steve and generally think he’s a pretty smart guy, but last night we saw the guy who thought Sarah Palin as Vice President was a pretty good idea.

One need only to look at the last six years to rebut Schmidt’s quaint notion of bipartisan potential.

During the first two years of the Obama administration, when the Democratic Party held both houses of congress, the GOP became the “Party of No,” using the filibuster to an unprecedented level in the Senate to block legislation. Once they took back the House in the 2010 midterms, they became the “Party of Nothing,” making the “Do Nothing” congress of Harry Truman’s time look positively robust in terms of legislative action. Come next year, the Republicans will hold both houses of congress. So far, what we have heard from them, is their desire to repeal Obamacare, block gay marriage, and fight the executive action by the President on immigration. The problem for Republicans is to do any of these things on a large level, they will need the presidency too. Which means in 2016, they will have to run against everything and for nothing.

The best thing for the Republican party, ironically, is also the best thing for the country. All the GOP would need to do is use legislation to improve Obamacare. On gay marriage, they could simply just get out of the way. The GOP loves to argue over state’s rights. Well, 34 states have decided that gay people have the same marital rights as straight people. It’s easy. Do nothing. Hell, they’re good at it. Finally, on immigration, they have a bill that has been sitting in limbo in the House of Representatives for a year and a half that was co-authored by the GOP’s great Latino hope, Marco Rubio, passed the Senate with 68 votes, and everyone believes would clear the House if only John Boehner would let it be voted on. Something he is loath to do for fear of political blowback from the tightiest of righties within his party. They may not like any of these choices, but getting those three issues off the table would allow the party to get back to convincing us that “trickle down” economics still works. For them, that’s a better–if equally stale–bet.

If this is what the GOP wants to run on in 2016, taking rights and benefits away from those who will have, by then, been enjoying those rights and benefits for years, I say be my guest. Be the Party of Less Than Nothing. Go ahead and make up the bumper stickers and everything. Let’s see how that works out. I may be mixing metaphors here, but the ball is in their court and as of last night, their bluff has been called. It’s up to them to decide if the way forward is to go backward. If that’s their choice, and I have no reason to believe they will go in any other direction, then they’ve already lost and they simply don’t know it yet.

David E. Phillips

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