Standing athwart history

STANDING ATHWART HISTORY…. There are plenty of discouraging poll numbers for Democrats that have been released lately, but there’s little evidence that Republicans are capitalizing in any meaningful way. The party is still less popular than the Democratic majority, and the GOP is still less trusted on most of the major issues of the day.

On health care, for example, the new NBC/WSJ poll shows 45% of Americans approving of President Obama’s handling of the issue. For the Republican Party, the number was 21%. The GOP has done wonders raising doubts about Democratic reform plans, but it’s not exactly persuading anyone that Republicans offer a superior alternative.

With that in mind, Ezra Klein had a good summary of the bigger picture.

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.

All these thing might be true, but they’re being said, in this case, by politicians who want to take back Congress and start negotiating with interest groups to solve problems. That’s not going to work terribly well, and for obvious reasons. 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. American politics is trapped in a cycle of minority obstruction, and though that’s good for whomever the minority is at the moment, it’s not particularly good for making progress on pressing issues.

I think this is almost entirely right, except for one point — Ezra described congressional Republicans as “politicians who want to take back Congress and start negotiating with interest groups to solve problems.” I don’t mean to be cute here, but I think that gives the GOP too much credit.

In fact, I’m not sure Republicans are interested in problem-solving at all. They want to take back Congress for the express purpose of stopping the White House from passing a progressive policy agenda. GOP leaders don’t want to govern or “make progress on pressing issues”; they want to stop the process of governing and let the status quo linger.

To be sure, I think Ezra’s entirely right about the consequences of Republican tactics — they paralyze our system of government. The key, though, is that the GOP is almost certainly okay with that.

Put it this way: when was the last time the Republican Party, on the national level, had a coherent policy agenda? It wasn’t 2002 (“9/11, 9/11, 9/11”); it wasn’t 2004 (the bulk of George W. Bush’s stump speech was about John Kerry); it wasn’t 2006 (“9/11?, 9/11?, 9/11?”); and it wasn’t 2008 (“maverick” is not a plan).

The same will be true in 2010 — there’s nothing in particular the GOP wants to do with government, other than to say “no” to those who do have an agenda. And with that in mind, making it impossible for anyone to govern suits Republicans just fine.