Conservatives, Get a Grip on Reality!

Those who thought shutting down the government was a winning strategy should have their heads examined.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for the day October 16, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. This is the sixteenth day of the government shutdown and the last day to find a solution before the government could potentially begin defaulting on debts. 
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Charlie Cook
Oct. 17, 2013, 5 p.m.

Here’s a ques­tion for con­ser­vat­ives and Re­pub­lic­ans: Go­ing in­to the 2012 Elec­tion Day, or even in the last few days be­fore Elec­tion Day, did you think Mitt Rom­ney was go­ing to win? A couple of months ago, did you think the strategy of threat­en­ing to shut down the gov­ern­ment or pre­vent rais­ing the debt ceil­ing, to force the out­right re­peal or de­fund­ing of Obama­care, would really work? Rom­ney lost by 4,967,508 votes, 126 Elect­or­al Col­lege votes, and 3.85 per­cent­age points. That’s not very close. Obama­care isn’t go­ing to be re­pealed this year, and it’s not go­ing to be de­fun­ded.

So the ques­tion is wheth­er con­ser­vat­ives and Re­pub­lic­ans should be­gin to worry if their in­stincts — spe­cific­ally, their judg­ment on mat­ters of polit­ics and policy — are a bit off. Maybe “spec­tac­u­larly wrong” would be more ac­cur­ate. Does that worry any­one on the right or in the Re­pub­lic­an Party? Are they con­cerned that con­tinu­ing to fol­low such aw­ful polit­ic­al in­stincts could lead to cata­stroph­ic con­sequences for their move­ment and their party?

Ob­vi­ously, not every Re­pub­lic­an or con­ser­vat­ive thought, up un­til the end, that Rom­ney would win or that the anti-Obama­care strategies would work. But this in­creas­ingly wide­spread tone deaf­ness should con­cern party lead­ers, par­tic­u­larly when it leads to self-de­struct­ive de­cisions, as we are wit­ness­ing these days. In polit­ics, it isn’t un­com­mon to see judg­ment clouded by emo­tion, but when hate and con­tempt pre­dom­in­ate, truly aw­ful de­cisions of­ten res­ult.

Driv­ing in to work Tues­day morn­ing while listen­ing to WTOP, Wash­ing­ton’s ex­cel­lent all-news ra­dio sta­tion, I heard my friend, the ex­tremely able con­gres­sion­al re­port­er Dave Mc­Con­nell, re­late a con­ver­sa­tion he had had with a Re­pub­lic­an House mem­ber. This mem­ber told Mc­Con­nell that al­low­ing the debt ceil­ing to be breached might “get the lead­er­ship’s at­ten­tion.” That soun­ded like a kid say­ing if he threw his moth­er’s price­less vase against the wall, she might start let­ting him do what he wants. Polit­ic­al judg­ment this bad, com­ing from mem­bers of Con­gress, is a dan­ger­ous thing for a party. When it comes to deal­ing with something with enorm­ous con­sequences, such as in­ten­tion­ally cre­at­ing a situ­ation that could lead to de­fault on our na­tion­al debt, we are no longer quib­bling about minor dif­fer­ences of opin­ion.

The com­bin­a­tion of re­dis­trict­ing; pop­u­la­tion-sort­ing; and me­dia-view­ing, listen­ing, and read­ing habits has cre­ated ideo­lo­gic­al and par­tis­an culs-de-sac and in­ces­tu­ous think­ing that are caus­ing as­ton­ish­ing mis­cal­cu­la­tions on hugely con­sequen­tial mat­ters.

I con­sul­ted a psy­chi­at­rist and a psy­cho­lo­gist on this ques­tion. Both said there is no form­al term for the be­ha­vi­or some Re­pub­lic­ans are ex­hib­it­ing, but one de­scribed the group­think as “hys­ter­ic­al de­lu­sion­al af­firm­a­tion,” and the oth­er named it “de­lu­sion­al syn­ergy.” One said, “It en­tails sus­pen­sion of lo­gic­al in­tel­lec­tu­al pro­cesses with a se­lect­ive con­sid­er­a­tion of only con­firm­at­ory in­put. Para­noid people typ­ic­ally ex­per­i­ence ideas of in­flu­ence and con­trol where they be­lieve that they see things that oth­ers can­not. This pro­cess is of­ten pro­pelled by de­lu­sions of grandeur, quite of­ten mes­si­an­ic in nature.”

Cer­tainly, de­lu­sion is not new. Dur­ing Bill Clin­ton’s pres­id­ency, the hatred and con­tempt for the Arkansan among many Re­pub­lic­ans and con­ser­vat­ives was so great it led prom­in­ent GOP mem­bers to do some pretty out­rageous things — up to and in­clud­ing then-Rep. Dan Bur­ton of In­di­ana shoot­ing a mel­on in his back­yard to try to prove some hareb­rained con­spir­acy the­ory about the late White House coun­sel Vince Foster’s death. And that’s not to men­tion the im­peach­ment fiasco. When hatred turns in­to ob­ses­sion, it spawns some pretty er­rat­ic and de­struct­ive be­ha­vi­or.De­struct­ive be­ha­vi­or is not con­fined to one polit­ic­al party. Dur­ing George W. Bush’s pres­id­ency, the Left and some Demo­crats got caught up in some pretty crazy stuff as well; some peddled con­spir­acy the­or­ies that Bush knew about the 9/11 at­tacks in ad­vance and that his 2004 reelec­tion was stolen. More re­cently, House Demo­crats’ de­cision in 2009 — des­pite a worsen­ing re­ces­sion — to push ahead on cap-and-trade cli­mate-change le­gis­la­tion, and then pur­sue health care re­form after un­em­ploy­ment topped 9 per­cent, cost them their House ma­jor­ity, along with Sen­ate seats, gov­ernor­ships, state le­gis­lat­ive seats, and con­trol of cham­bers. This led to dev­ast­at­ing re­dis­trict­ing con­sequences for the party. It’s also worth point­ing out the fairly crazy be­lief on the left that the polit­ic­al con­tro­versy sur­round­ing health care re­form would help Demo­crats and vir­tu­ally en­sure Obama’s reelec­tion. The uni­on-backed de­cision to push a re­call of GOP Gov. Scott Walk­er in Wis­con­sin falls in­to this cat­egory as well — an­oth­er co­lossal mis­cal­cu­la­tion based on hate, not lo­gic.

And don’t get me star­ted on the “birth­ers.” It’s one thing to dis­like or dis­ap­prove of Obama, but to get ob­sessed over birth cer­ti­fic­ates — really? “Hys­ter­ic­al de­lu­sion­al af­firm­a­tion” and “de­lu­sion­al syn­ergy” aren’t terms nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with the polit­ic­al pro­cess, but after the spec­tacle of the past few weeks, they seem pretty apt. While many Re­pub­lic­ans — those who are clear-eyed about today’s polit­ic­al real­it­ies — are ex­empt, these terms ap­ply to enough of them that it may be time for the GOP’s Non-de­lu­sion­al Caucus to stage an in­ter­ven­tion. Oth­er­wise the party may be headed for some voter-ad­min­istered ther­apy.


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