The penance has not been paid

THE PENANCE HAS NOT BEEN PAID…. Following up on this item from yesterday, I had an interesting conversation via email yesterday with Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations. Bruce made a point that really resonated with me, and he was gracious enough to allow me to republish it here.

I believe that political parties should do penance for their mistakes and just losing power is not enough. Part of that involves understanding why those mistakes were made and how to prevent them from happening again. Republicans, however, have done no penance. They just pretend that they did nothing wrong. But until they do penance they don’t deserve any credibility and should be ignored until they do. That’s what my attacks on Bush are all about. I want Republicans to admit they were wrong about him, accept blame for his mistakes, and take some meaningful action to keep them from happening again. Bush should be treated as a pariah, as Richard Nixon was for many years until he rebuilt his credibility by more or less coming clean about Watergate with David Frost and writing a number of thoughtful books.

One reason this isn’t happening is because the media don’t treat Republicans as if they are discredited. On the contrary, they often seem to be treated as if they have more credibility than the administration. Just look at the silly issue of death panels. The media should have laughed it out the window, ridiculed it or at least ignored it once it was determined that there was no basis to the charge. Instead, those making the most outlandish charges are treated with deference and respect, while those that actually have credibility on the subject are treated as equals at best and often with deep skepticism, as if they are the ones with an ax to grind.

I am truly baffled by this situation, as I’m sure you are.

As regular readers may imagine, I find this overwhelmingly persuasive. Bush/Cheney policies failed so spectacularly, Republican candidates and officeholders are generally reluctant to associate themselves with the tarnished name of the previous administration. But Bush/Cheney policies are still those of the contemporary Republican Party. Nothing has changed. Failure and defeat haven’t chastened the GOP at all, and if given a chance to govern again, Republican leaders are quite anxious to return to the exact same agenda they embraced when they were in the majority.

And the political mainstream seems to think this is sane.

The same Republicans — literally, the self-same individual people — who were astonishingly wrong about pretty much every area of public policy in recent years, are the same Republicans who feel confident that they’re still credible, knowledgeable, and correct. Not because they’ve changed their larger agenda or worldview, but because a brief period of time has elapsed.

They feel justified proposing a five-year spending freeze in response to the economic crisis. They feel comfortable pretending to care about the “death panels” policy they already endorsed, promoted, and voted for. They have no qualms making bitter complaints about deficits and debts after having spent most of the decade increasing the size of government, increasing federal spending, and creating of some of the largest deficits in American history.

We’re not supposed to point and laugh at their humiliating ideas and attacks — we’re supposed to negotiate with them.

What’s more, rejected in large numbers by voters nine months ago, and after spending the last seven months acting like confused children, these same Republicans now insist what they really deserve is to be back in the majority again. Seriously.

I suppose the word that keeps coming to mind is “consequences.” The Republican Party of the Bush era failed in ways few have even tried, burdening the nation with challenges and crises that are difficult to address and painful to even think about. They believe, however, there should be no consequences for this. There’s no need, they say, to alter their political beliefs at all. Indeed, they see their main goal as the loyal opposition to undermine efforts to clean up the mess they left. They’re the arsonists hoping to convince the public not to have confidence in the fire department.

No penance, no consequences, no self-reflection — only the expectation that they be treated as a serious group with a credible agenda.

It’s probably one of the most frustrating aspects of the larger political discourse. Individual issues aside, there’s a temptation to turn to Boehner, Cantor, McConnell, et al, and say, “We’re still waiting for that apology.”