To say that the Republican Party has seen better days is akin to saying that the Federal Government spends a little more than it takes in. Both would be gross understatements. In order to set about repairing and strengthening our once formidable Party, we must first seek to understand why it finds itself in the shape it does. Discussions are taking place across the globe, even as you’re reading this, that the Republican Party has “lost its way,” has alienated minorities, and has elected “leaders” who govern contrary to its core principles. While all of these allegations may be true, I think they serve to undermine the real reason the Party is facing such difficulty winning elections, most notably of the national variety.
The example I seek to use is that of sequestration. I am sure you know what I am referring to. You would have to have been in a coma to have missed the constant barrage of dire predictions regarding the exaggerated effects of cuts to national spending. But just in case you have missed it, CNN defines sequestration as:
“…a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government agencies, totaling $1.2 trillion over 10 years. The cuts would be split 50-50 between defense and domestic discretionary spending.”
That is the simplest of all definitions, yet adequately describes what is really a complete and total failure of the Federal Government to do its job: pass a budget. The purpose of a budget is so that money is allocated to be spent on specific things, and not spent on specific other things. However, in the absence of a budget, and given the apparent inability of this government to curb spending increases in ANY way, the current sequestration was designed by this President to force Congress into a lose:lose position.
You may be wondering how forced spending cuts of ANY kind could be perceived as a losing proposition for those in the Republican Party? You would be forgiven for doing so because it seems even Party “leaders” such as John Boehner and Mitch McConnell would probably ask me the same question. In the past 5 years, nothing has been equated with the Republican Party as much as a refusal to raise taxes, and an insistence on cutting government spending. Nothing. With the emergence of the Tea Party in 2009, as well as the arrival on the scene of a new crop of legislators in the Congress after the mid-term elections in 2010, it’s safe to say that fiscal responsibility, and slowing government growth, have become the core of the party’s identity, as well as its mantra. This in and of itself is not a concern, at least not for those straining to see any real sense of fiscal sanity coming from Washington D.C. these days. No, the problem begins, as it usually does, with who wins the “Blame Game” for the pain that inevitably comes from either making cuts, or avoiding them.
Very few politicians, if any, have been quite as adept at controlling the narrative of all things political as President Barack Obama. His White House has proven the ability to minimize, trivialize, and outright crush, anything seen as remotely damaging or contrary to their policies and legislative agenda. This has translated into a carefully crafted narrative that the Democrat Party is the party of “giving,” “caring” and “helping,” while the Republican Party has been characterized as the opposite: the party of “taking,” “selfishness,” and “greed.” His is not the first administration to tell this tale, it’s just the best at making it stick like glue as the rationale behind everything the GOP tries to do.
Suffice it to say, the Republican Party is always looking to decrease government spending, but at what cost? At what point would a reduction in spending–seen by party loyalists as “winning the “battle”–actually result in a considerable blow to the overall effectiveness of the GOP to present itself as a viable option to “right” this American ship of state? In other words, at what point does winning that battle risk costing them the war?
By blaming the sequestration on the Republican Congress, either with claims that they are responsible for its creation, or that its actual implementation is a direct result of their inaction, the President puts himself in the enviable position of being “right.” How? By over-dramatizing sequestration to the point that people–according to the White House–ought to be concerned with everything from aircraft carriers full of sailors stranded across the globe, to food not properly inspected by the USDA, to long lines at airports due to furloughs of TSA agents, and even to the release from prison of illegal immigrants with substantial criminal histories. Of course, none of these things will come to pass, as these are but canards offered by a bullying administration in the hope of luring the GOP into a yet another political battle that serves only to distract people from the larger war.
What is the larger war? Well, after three-to-six months of sequestration, when the reduced spending actually does add up on the balance sheet (and it would take that long given its low, single-digit percentage reduction in what can only be described as a massive would-be budget), ANY perceivably negative effects will be easy to blame on Republicans; If not on the basis of the President’s claim, false though it may be, that the sequester was the GOP’s idea, or that their inaction forced its implementation, then on the basis that “spending-cuts” are so inextricably tied to the Republican Party’s identity. Therefore, sequestration is a policy the GOP should NOT seek to implement. That last part is very important, please make sure you didn’t miss it. If the President is able to tie ANY negative outcome to the Republican pillar of less government spending, he will have won the war.
People seem to think that politics and public policy operate in a vacuum, that the tax increases campaigned for so ardently by the President don’t actually apply to THEM. By the same token, people also refuse to accept that reduced government spending may actually lead to some jobs being eliminated, perhaps even their jobs. Does that make the policy any less effective? Any less necessary? No. It just means that Americans do not seem to concern themselves with anything until AFTER it has already affected them personally. In much the same way, the Republican Party is constantly finding itself on its heels, playing “catch-up,” reacting to this President, and to the Democrats, when they should have been proactive all along. This puts them on defense rather than on the arguably more-effective, offense. And being on offense is all the more important when battling a President, and an administration, who do a better job of turning opponents into trivial, laughable caricatures than anyone in recent political memory.
At the end of the day, Republicans may win their battle, conveying some semblance of fiscal judgement or reason, but the White House will continue to win the War. By characterizing basic Conservative values as foolish, absurd, or just plain mean, and by being able to paint the results of spending-cut policies as “disastrous,” the Obama Administration will continue to deliver crushing losses to an already struggling Party-of-last-resort.