Against the backdrop of a government-shutdown deadline, Karen Tumulty noted yesterday the “cumulative effect of almost three years of governing by near-death experience.” It’s phrasing that rings true for a reason – since Republicans retook the House majority in January 2011, no major legislation has become law, but we have endured quite a few crises.
In April 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In July 2011, congressional Republicans created the first debt-ceiling crisis in American history. In September 2011, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In April 2012, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. In December 2012, congressional Republicans pushed the nation towards the so-called “fiscal cliff.” In January 2013, congressional Republicans briefly flirted with the possibility of another debt-ceiling crisis. In March 2013, congressional Republicans threatened a government shutdown. And right now, in September 2013, the odds of a government shutdown are quite good once again.
That’s eight self-imposed, entirely unnecessary, easily avoidable crises since John Boehner got his hands on the Speaker’s gavel – a 33-month period in which Congress racked up zero major legislative accomplishments.
Josh Marshall had a good item on the trend over the weekend.
Years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase ‘defining deviancy down.’ James Q. Wilson popularized the conceptually related “broken windows” theory of crime and crime prevention. Whether or not these theories and catch phrases work as sociology is separate question; subsequent research has not been kind. But they capture the toxic consequences of the normalization and expanded acceptance of destructive behavior – something that not only applies to individuals and communities but to states and their internal workings. Stepping back from the latest Washington debacle, you quickly see how far down this road we’ve gone without really even realizing it.
It has started to feel normal that two or three times a year we have a major state/fiscal crisis and maybe once every 18 months or two years, there is a true breakdown with fairly grave consequences….. [T]his is really unprecedented stuff – deep attacks on the state itself inasmuch as the state requires for it to function a penumbra of norms surrounding the formal mechanisms of government.
Quite right. In fact, I think it creates unsettling conditions and raises uncomfortable questions about the future of the American experiment.
Put simply, great nations can’t function this way. The United States can either be a 21st-century superpower or it can tolerate Republicans abandoning the governing process and subjecting Americans to a series of self-imposed extortion crises. It cannot do both.
We can be the indispensable nation – we can even be a shining city on a hill – but not with a radicalized major party that throws seasonal tantrums that threaten the nation’s wellbeing. The cost is simply too great.
In the abstract, I imagine Americans who don’t pay attention to day-to-day developments have come to expect routine gridlock and partisan bickering. Democrats and Republicans arguing is arguably the ultimate in dog-bites-man stories.
But those same Americans should search their memories: have they ever seen a governing party threaten five government shutdowns in less than three years, while sprinkling two debt-ceiling crises on top?
The American tradition has no experience with our own elected officials imposing deliberate crises on the nation – as if one of our major political parties is mad at us and feels the need to punish us for offending them.
I realize Republicans consider the Affordable Care Act an example of such profound outrage that they have no choice but to threaten Americans on purpose. I can’t begin to fathom why they hate a moderate law based on Republican principles with such wild-eyed contempt, but it’s currently the world we live in.
My suggestion to them, however, is that they introduce legislation that would deliver their preferred goals. If it passes, they’ll get what they want. If it fails, they can try winning more elections. Either way, watching Republican officials – ostensibly elected to advance our interests – threaten national harm every few months has quite tiresome.