The Party of Zilch

With Democrats sagging, Republicans are missing an opportunity to fill the leadership void.

Cordial: But certainly not warm; Obama with Boehner and Cantor.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
Add to Briefcase
Ron Fournier
Nov. 19, 2013, 4:38 a.m.

The Re­pub­lic­an Party stands for noth­ing. As Barack Obama threatens to fumble away his pres­id­ency along with the Demo­crat­ic Party’s reas­ons for ex­ist­ence — cham­pi­on­ing an act­ive, ef­fi­cient gov­ern­ment — the GOP lurches in­to the lead­er­ship breach with “¦ zilch.

Rather than be the party of solu­tions in a grid­locked cap­it­al, ap­peal­ing to a lead­er­ship-starved pub­lic, the GOP is the party of ob­struc­tion, en­sur­ing that its pu­trid ap­prov­al rat­ings nose-dive apace with Obama’s.

The coun­try needs sens­ible im­mig­ra­tion re­form that brings 11 mil­lion or so un­doc­u­mented res­id­ents out of the shad­ows. No, says the GOP.

The coun­try needs to tame a massive debt that will be 100 per­cent of the gross do­mest­ic product by 2038 un­less Con­gress raises rev­en­ue and trims en­ti­tle­ments. No, says the GOP.

The coun­try needs fair de­bate and com­prom­ise around ex­ist­en­tial is­sues such as cli­mate change, in­come in­equal­ity, and a de­teri­or­at­ing 20th-cen­tury in­fra­struc­ture. No, says the GOP.

A small but re­cent ex­ample of Re­pub­lic­an ob­stin­acy came Monday when Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans blocked Obama’s third con­sec­ut­ive nom­in­ee to the coun­try’s most im­port­ant Ap­peals Court. Their ar­gu­ment is ludicrous: The United States Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit does not have a case­load to mer­it filling the va­can­cies, Re­pub­lic­ans claim. They failed to shrink the court by three seats, so they are block­ing the pres­id­ent’s nom­in­ees.

This is not about case­loads. Re­pub­lic­ans had no trouble with the size of the court un­der Pres­id­ent Bush. The data con­tra­dict the case for few­er seats. And all three of Obama’s nom­in­ees are qual­i­fied for the job. This is pure polit­ics of ob­struc­tion.

It brings to mind what House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor offered as an ex­cuse for block­ing a vote on the Sen­ate’s im­mig­ra­tion bill, or even a de­bate on the sub­ject. “We don’t want a re­peat of what’s go­ing on now with Obama­care,” he said.

That’s the GOP motto: If Obama is for it, we’re against it. That may be enough to ap­pease Obama haters who make up a con­sid­er­able core of the Re­pub­lic­an midterm vot­ing bloc. It may be a strategy that works in the short term, giv­en the pres­id­ent’s man­age­ment fail­ures and de­cep­tion. But this is the ex­act wrong way for Re­pub­lic­ans to win the emer­ging gen­er­a­tion of voters, the mil­len­ni­als, whom polls show are far more tol­er­ant and prac­tic­al than GOP lead­ers in Wash­ing­ton.

In fair­ness, Demo­crats en­cour­age bad be­ha­vi­or. For ex­ample, Sen­ate Demo­crats in 2003 blocked Pres­id­ent Bush’s nom­in­ee to the same Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit that Obama is now try­ing to fill. Demo­crats were in the minor­ity then, and no less nar­row-minded or polit­ic­al as Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans today.

Re­pub­lic­ans are also em­boldened by the know­ledge that Obama’s polit­ic­al stand­ing is slip­ping. A new Wash­ing­ton Post poll shows that both his ap­prov­al rat­ings and the pub­lic’s view of Obama­care are at re­cord lows. Most dis­turb­ing are his rank­ings on per­son­al at­trib­utes that have buoyed him in the past.  Ac­cord­ing to The Post:

“On three meas­ures of lead­er­ship and em­pathy that have been tested re­peatedly in Post-ABC polls, Obama now is un­der­wa­ter on all three for the first time. Half or more now say he is not a strong lead­er, does not un­der­stand the prob­lems of “people like you,” and is not hon­est and trust­worthy. Per­cep­tions of the pres­id­ent as a strong lead­er have dropped 15 points since Janu­ary, and over the past year the per­cent­age of re­gistered voters who say he is not hon­est and trust­worthy has in­creased 12 points.

The new sur­vey also asked people wheth­er they con­sider Obama a good man­ager. In what ap­pears to be a dir­ect link to the prob­lems of the health-care rol­lout, 56 per­cent say no and 41 per­cent say yes.”

For months, I have been warn­ing that Obama risked the pub­lic turn­ing sour on his lead­er­ship (here, here, here, here, here, and here) and cred­ib­il­ity (here, here, here, here, here, and here). The Benghazi at­tack, the seizure of tele­phone re­cords from the As­so­ci­ated Press, the IRS’s in­vest­ig­a­tions of polit­ic­al groups, the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s massive do­mest­ic-spy­ing op­er­a­tion, the “red line” in Syr­ia, and now Obama­care — the White House re­spon­ded to every con­tro­versy or quasi-scan­dal by mock­ing its crit­ics and ig­nor­ing the warn­ing signs.

Now the pub­lic has had enough. Amer­ic­ans are be­gin­ning to not trust their pres­id­ent, and so what does the GOP of­fer as reas­on­able al­tern­at­ive — a modic­um of san­ity, comity, or ser­i­ous­ness? Nope. Oth­er than hard par­tis­ans on the left and right, the ma­jor­ity of the people — mod­er­ate, fix-it Amer­ic­ans who simply want a sens­ible gov­ern­ment — now have nowhere to turn, be­cause the GOP is the party of noth­ing.

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