Still waiting for seriousness

STILL WAITING FOR SERIOUSNESS…. Ross Douthat has an item on the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” today, and like nearly everyone else, he’s not impressed. But there was one line in particular that stood out for me.

Not surprisingly, Douthat’s criticism isn’t entirely in line with my concerns about the GOP agenda, and I think he’s soft-selling some of the more obvious flaws. But he nevertheless concludes that the document “inspires very little confidence in the Congressional G.O.P.’s ability to unite around good policy.”

I understand that House caucuses are not traditionally hotbeds of policy innovation, and I give the Republican leadership credit for actually making an effort on this front, instead of just coasting toward the midterms. But I also refuse to succumb to the soft bigotry of low expectations! These are serious times, and for a party that may have a share of power again ere long, the Pledge to America is simply not a sufficiently serious response.

It’s a recurring theme when it comes to Republicans in recent years — there’s just no seriousness to what they do, how they think, or how they behave.

Just a few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said House GOP leaders “are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious.”

Ornstein may have thought of that as a throwaway line, but I’ve considered it rather devastating. He didn’t just say Republicans aren’t serious; he said they can’t get serious and don’t even want to try. That’s not only a powerful critique, it has the added benefit of being true.

Early last year, as the GOP’s descent into nonsense picked up steam, there was some rejoicing on the left, and I understood why. As Republicans took on the collective persona of angry, over-medicated children, it seemed highly unlikely American voters would reward them with power. The GOP was becoming a national embarrassment, progressives assumed, and would need to come to its senses before it could return to the big kids’ table.

But that satisfaction was misplaced. Sure, Republicans abandoned the pretense of credibility, seriousness, reason, and thoughtful policymaking, but they’re nevertheless poised to make significant gains anyway. Voters care less about the GOP’s radical recklessness and more about a struggling national economy.

The result is the worst of all worlds. We’re faced with daunting challenges, a dysfunctional political system, and a party poised to gain power despite being woefully unprepared for the responsibilities of leadership.