Wise individuals learn from history. Today’s Republican Party does too, but seems predisposed to look for its history instruction in all the wrong places.
Their current attempt to invoke history appears to derive from the Iranian hostage-taking of 1979, when 54 Americans were held captive for 444 days. Taking government, the country and the global economy hostage to manufactured faux-crises resulting in government shutdowns and threats to deny routine raisings of the debt ceiling have them emulating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. This is not a winning strategy.
At the same time, they have conveniently ignored what recent history should have taught them about healthcare reform. When the healthcare reform bill was before Congress in 2009-10, the Obama administration and Democratic congressional leaders made numerous attempts to involve House Republicans in crafting the legislation. Every single offer to engage them was summarily rejected and was scorned by every single Republican House member.
In the Senate, several powerful Republicans actually did participate in the crafting of the bill. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee at the time, contributed greatly to the final legislation, working closely with committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). The number two Republican on the Finance Committee, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), also added significantly to the bill. In fact, it would not be too extreme to label the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “Grassleycare.” Republicans would also like the public to forget that the ACA is modeled on a proposal that came out of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and became the Massachusetts healthcare law — a.k.a. “Romneycare.”
Republicans don’t want you to remember any of this. It is much more politically convenient for them to claim they were shut out of the negotiations and that the ACA was shoved down their throats.
Underlying the current Republican approach to disrupt both government and the global economy is a sinister factor: blackmail politics has become the norm for the Tea Party, which now seems to have a death grip on the entire GOP. Terrorized by a minority of their own party, the handful of surviving moderate Republicans don’t want to put their cantankerous colleagues in their place, fearful of primary challenges from the hard Right next year. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the weakest speaker of the House in American history, does not dare overrule the zealots because he wants to keep his job, such as it is, regardless of the damage he is doing to the nation. Since when did the very few decide what the many must or must not do?
I don't like every provision of the ACA, but at least it is a starting point. Our healthcare system is terribly broken and needs fixing. Ask any doctor, nurse, hospital administrator, patient, or caregiver. We need to begin somewhere.
So what does this Republican approach portend for the future of the party and of our democracy? A Republican Party that is populated overwhelmingly by ultra-conservative, aging, white men. In short, marginalized. They are handing the political future to the Democrats, and not only because of the demographic wave that is about to drown them. If Democrats want to exploit the tremendous gift Republicans are handing them and really lock in the future, all they have to do is become pragmatic centrists on the Bill Clinton model. That would bring them the vast majority of the 40 percent of Americans who deem themselves Independents and who decide close elections. The ideological Left has nowhere else to go. They will stay Democrats. They surely are not going to vote Republican. And they are not likely to stay home on election day, given the horror with which they would view a right-wing victory.
Page 2 of 2 - Many Independents are social moderates and fiscal conservatives. Like the founding fathers, they view democracy and good government to be premised on compromise. They are the big electoral prize. If Democrats make slight adjustments to their policy positions, they will find their politics aligned with Independents.
Republicans seem to be intent on relegating themselves to permanent minority status, content to becoming ideologically pure but increasingly irrelevant for years to come. That is not good for the country. We need two robust, broad-based, competitive parties that can compete with each other on a level playing field. But if one party insists on tyrannizing everyone else, they are going to have to live with the consequences.
Richard Hermann is a part-time Canandaigua resident and Canandaigua Academy graduate. Email him care of Messenger Post Media at email@example.com.