Taking the pledge
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Clearly the Republicans came out of the November 2016 elections bruised, bloodied, and despite the empty rhetoric of some of the party stalwarts, very much bowed. Although the more high profile and stalwart Republicans who had dedicated their political lives to destroying Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t get the memo (indeed they still deny that the memo was ever sent) that they lost and the people of the United States wanted Obama to continue to lead the country, some are coming to the realisation that reality bites.
Part of the problem, as has been endlessly discussed, seems to be the bubble (as Bill Maher expresses it) or media cocoon in which Republicans wrap themselves. They have made a policy of the psychological dysfunction of denial; what in the the real world is a mental aberration is embraced as a virtue by GOP true believers. They are in denial about anything that doesn’t square with their misty-eyed, Norman Rockwell, Herbert Hoover era worldview.
They deny scientific reality like climate change and evolution because they can’t reconcile it with their discredited notions; they don’t like it so they don’t believe it. They deny numbers when the numbers contradict their narrative; the figures released by the Department of Labor Statistics were seen as suspect for no reason other than that they didn’t correspond with their campaign claims. Once again, they didn’t like the palpable fact that Obama’s measures were turning the economy around, so they disputed the figures. During the election campaign they denied the polls that showed the Democrats leading and forecast Obama’s victory. Their narrative was that the country as a whole loathed Obama with the same vitriolic hatred the Tea Party held for him, so the polls had to be wrong.
On election night they denied the numbers even as they were coming in; in a hypocritical sort of way I even felt a little pity as I watched Karl Rove going through a meltdown on live TV as reality arrived like a smack in the face with a wet mackerel. The bubble was bursting before his eyes and all of his dirty tricks, voter suppression attempts, bare-faced lies, and hundreds of millions of donors’ dollars were clearly not going to swing the election his way; but until that moment he, like the rest of the Republicans, had believed their own self-created mythology. They were so used to lying that they had even lied to themselves, believed the lies, and then based their plans and hopes for the future on those beliefs; when the truth began to assert itself they denied it right up until the last vote was counted. That’s when the rationalisations began.
Nevertheless a crack is beginning to appear in the wall of obdurate obstructionism that characterised the previous congress. One or two Republicans, fed up with seeing their approval numbers in the single digit depths, and having come to the realisation that even conservatives wanted a functioning government in preference to the utter gridlock that their Tea Party fanatics had precipitated, publicly supported the incumbent president. Perhaps the tipping point came when the vocal idiot faction of the GOP threw a piston rod over Republican governor Chris Christie publicly acknowledging Obama’s leadership and, worse, thanking him for his rapid and effective personal intervention to aid the New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy. Even the most dimwitted habitual Republican voter could see that the entrenched, unthinking contrariness that had become Republican policy was harmful to Americans and frankly stupid.
One or two Republicans are now acknowledging that to balance the budget, revenues (code for taxes) are needed. They are talking about taking a balanced approach to budget legislation; a clear retreat from the stated positions of each Republican candidate who, during the primaries, had proudly asserted that they would vote down any budget that contained trillions of dollars in cuts if it included one dollar of tax increases. Although nobody has yet said that they would support Obama’s plan to continue the Bush tax cuts for the 98% percent of US citizens who earn less than $250,000.00 per year but let them lapse for the top 2%, that is clearly where they are going to have to go.
And that’s where the election’s other big loser comes into the picture. Grover Norquist had strong-armed Republican congressional candidates and incumbents into signing a pledge. That pledge was to the people of the United States and it stated that the House legislators would never vote for any legislation that would raise taxes or have the effect of increasing taxes on anyone, ever, for any reason. Every Republican presidential primary candidate (except for the gone-in-a-blink John Huntsman) and 95% of the Republican House has taken that oath. The problem was that the members of Congress had taken another oath that their constituents presumably thought ought to take precedence:
The current oath was enacted in 1884:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
If these oaths come into conflict, the members of congress have a problem. As it is now clearly a congressional duty to increase the share of taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires, a conflict of interest has put 95% of Republicans in a real bind. It isn’t, however, an impossible bind or even a serious impasse. One would assume that the members of congress who did the politically expedient thing and signed a pledge that was not in the best interests of their constituents would man up, acknowledge the conflict, make it clear that their oath of office takes precedence over a partisan promise to toe the Norquist line, and vote for legislation that will save the country from financial collapse.
Once the dam breaks and the Norquist pledge is discarded as anti-American and unpatriotic by one, then two, then a dozen Representatives, Norquist is done as a force in US politics. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if some Democrat even proposes legislation forbidding Members of Congress from taking any oaths that might conflict with their oaths of office. It won’t pass, of course, but it will hold the members’ feet to the fire; what after all could be their justification for voting against such a bill? After all, the wording of the oath of office clearly states that they take the oath freely…that alone is repudiation of an oath that ties an honourable member’s hands when it comes to doing one’s congressional duty.
At this writing, the momentum is starting to move in that direction. Always a starry eyed optimist, I can’t help but think that if this turns out to be part of the Republican move to reinvent the party, the momentum will increase. If there is rationality or even a survival instinct left in the majority of the RNC, we will see the end of Grover Norquist and his oath will be seen as subversive and anti-democratic, even seditious. The Tea Party will be seen for what it is: a vocal caucus of staggeringly ignorant, intolerant, self-righteous, uneducated and anti-democratic demagogues who couldn’t tell you what the word means. They will be marginalised, perhaps expelled, and the United States may then get back to rational, representative politics.
We’ll see. And we’ll see soon. The US cannot continue much longer with the current political atmosphere, and the people simply won’t tolerate it. The people have spoken once and their message was loud and clear.