Explaining the Indefensible

If memory serves, kids want to be adults because they have an odd concept of adulthood, as that glorious state of freedom where you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. They’ll never hear those words again – Young man, explain yourself, right now! They will hear those words again. Parents and teachers who demand that turn into bosses, or spouses, or creditors. There’s no escape – but adults buy lottery tickets for the very same reason. A massive amount of money, after taxes of course, will get you to that tropical island, where there’s no one to explain anything to, or Paris, where you probably couldn’t explain yourself no matter how hard you try, at least without a thorough grounding in the subjunctive, which you never understood in high-school French class anyway. Others dream of moving to Manhattan, to some penthouse high above the city, with a big black grand piano so you can noodle away at Cole Porter tunes looking out at Central Park. This would probably involve rare single-malt scotch too, but that’s not the point. The point is that you’d be in the middle of eleven million people, each with their own dreams and obsessions and problems and triumphs, all of them turned inward, not thinking of you at all. Think of it – those little-town blues are fading away already. There are no small-town busybodies in the big city, and if you have enough money you won’t have to explain anything to anyone ever, unless you break the law – but then your Park Avenue legal team will do whatever explaining is necessary. This would be quite fine.

This is also nonsense. All of life involves explaining yourself, even in Manhattan. Ask Anthony Weiner. He wants to be mayor of the whole city, not just Manhattan, but he has some explaining to do – as does Eliot Spitzer – who wants to be the city’s comptroller. New Yorkers shouldn’t give a shit about Weiner posting online pictures of his wiener – everyone needs a hobby – or care that Spitzer once found both solace and excitement with the shady ladies who take major credit cards. Neither has a damned thing to do with the job of mayor or comptroller – and a good number of New Yorkers do see it just that way. Others don’t, and the national media certainly doesn’t see it that way. For them it’s a great New York story. Politics there are absurd. There’s many a movie about that. That both Weiner and Spitzer might just win their elections only confirms it all, and that makes the story all the more delicious. Both Weiner and Spitzer have to undercut that narrative, by explaining themselves. It ain’t easy, even in a city where everyone aggressively minds their own damned business, and belligerently demands you do the same.

That doesn’t work in politics. Public policy is everyone’s business, by definition, so whatever a politician insists should and must be public policy must be explained. He has to explain himself, or herself. Politicians cannot mind their own business, it’s just that there’s no point in being stupid about it:

According to Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) math, legalizing undocumented immigrants is untenable because for every valedictorian DREAMer – immigrants brought to the U.S. as children – there are 100 more who are carrying drugs across the border.

“Some of them are valedictorians, and their parents brought them in,” King told Newsmax in an interview last week. “It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents.”

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” he continued. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

King introduced an amendment last month that would reverse the Obama administration’s delayed deportation of DREAMers, leading DREAMers to stage a protest in his Washington office.

This led to headlines like this – Steve King Wants to Protect the Border from Cantaloupe-Sized Calves – and by the end of the day Republicans were distancing themselves from King, as they say. They ran for the hills. Yes, the solidly Republican House will kill all efforts at immigration reform, or do the minimum after many more months, perhaps by Christmas, but there are certain things you just don’t say, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent explains:

Karl Rove, a proponent of reform, recently instructed members of his party to tread carefully in the immigration debate: “Republicans must consider the impressions they will create by what they say.” These days, when it comes to the debate over how important Latino outreach should be to the GOP’s future, Rove is just another liberal squish, so it’s not surprising his advice is going unheeded in some quarters.

But still, even some Republicans who may not end up supporting comprehensive reform are sensitive to the need to project a measure of compassion when it comes to the immigration debate. The House GOP leadership is moving to support the so-called “Kids Act,” which would provide a path to citizenship for children who were brought here illegally by their parents. Eric Cantor claims this is a matter of “decency” and “compassion,” but there are already signs the Hispanic media isn’t buying such pretty sentiments.

There’s no winning here:

New polling results released today show clear evidence that Latino voters now believe that the anti-immigrant voices in the House are not isolated individuals but that many Republicans in Congress hold these views. When hearing a quote from Republican Mo Brooks, “There is a surefire way to create jobs now for American citizens: evict all illegal aliens from America” 77% of Latino voters said it gives them a less favorable view of the overall Republican Party. After hearing quotes from eight different House Republicans, 66% of Latino voters said the anti-immigrant quotes represent “many Republicans in Congress” compared to 27% who said they represent only a few isolated individuals.


So, yeah, it’s a great idea for House Republicans to delay this process all the way into the fall: It will give foes of immigration reform like King plenty of time to put their thoughts on the matter out there for public consumption.

Maybe the Republican House should pass at least some sort of half-assed inadequate immigration reform some sort of thing soon, or right now. Politicians are always explaining themselves. It’s what they do, but it’s dangerous. Don’t give them that opportunity. Close that window now.

It’s not that easy. The six-week August recess is about to begin. Yeah, yeah – August has only four weeks, but they won’t be back until mid-September. This is when they go home and listen to their constituents, which is kind of a joke. They don’t go home to listen to their constituents. They go home to explain themselves to them, and this year that requires a game plan:

Leaders of the House Republican majority are offering their members advice on how to address constituents.

“During August, I encourage you to echo this message and reaffirm our theme – Fighting Washington for You – in all that you do, for there is no better message than one that puts the American people before an out-of-control government,” reads a 31-page planning kit provided by House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) to members. Details of the kit were first reported by Roll Call on Monday.

The theme is apparent throughout the kit, which includes tips on how to use events, town halls, speeches and social media to promote this message. It advises Republicans to paint themselves as crusaders for reform in a broken, out-of-control Washington.

“Washington is out of control,” reads a sample op-ed that leadership suggests members write for their local papers. “But every day I serve in Congress, I work to fight Washington. … I’m fighting Washington for you.”

Any fool can see the contradiction here. They ARE Washington. They are the very ones who made a mess of things. They’d better hope someone doesn’t start giggling. Bashing Obamacare and discussing the havoc it will wreak on the country may not cut it anymore, given that new polling shows most Americans don’t want Congress to repeal Obamacare – give it time to work, and adjust it as necessary. Assuring that maybe thirty million people won’t be able to obtain health insurance after all, and tens of millions of the disabled and the elderly won’t be added to Medicaid after all, does seem kind of stupid. Sure, their constituents want to embarrass Obama any way they can, but there’s no need to hurt half the nation, very badly, to do that. Yeah, fix Washington, but don’t bring on the pain for everyone.

There’s more:

Remarkably, the packet includes virtually no discussion of immigration reform – a major issue pending before the House after comprehensive legislation passed the Senate. The one and only mention of it comes as an aside under messaging themes, alongside jobs and the economy: “Reforming Immigration and Border Security.” By contrast, health care and jobs get dozens of mentions. The lack of any messaging guidance on immigration illustrates the political difficulty of the issue for the GOP, forcing them to choose between their base and the fast-growing demographic of Hispanic voters.

It all depends on who you think you’re explaining yourself to, but the task is hopeless:

A House Democratic leadership aide retorted, “As Speaker Boehner has said, the Republican Congress should be judged ‘on how many laws we repeal.’ Nothing is their agenda, never is their timetable. That’s one hard record to go home and sell to your constituents.”

That House Democratic leadership aide might not be far off the mark, given this report from The Hill’s Alexander Bolton:

ObamaCare is at the center of a rapidly escalating fight that threatens to shut the government down this fall.

Senate Republicans, including two members of the leadership, are coalescing around a proposal to block any government funding resolution that includes money for the implementation of the 2010 Affordable Care Act….

In the House, 64 Republicans have signed onto a letter pressing Boehner not to bring any legislation funding ObamaCare to the floor.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the leader of the Senate effort, predicts the vast majority of the Senate Republican Conference will back his plan, giving him enough votes to sustain a filibuster of a stopgap spending measure.

“This is the last stop before ObamaCare fully kicks in on Jan. 1 of next year for us to refuse to fund it,” Lee said Monday on “Fox and Friends.”

The Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore takes it from there:

September 30, when existing appropriations run out, also happens to be the day before enrollment in the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges begins.

Alternatively, of course, Republicans could make passage of a debt limit increase rather than appropriations the hostage for an Obamacare defunding, but GOP business allies won’t let that tactic go too far, and debt-limit ultras have already become accustomed to linking that issue to a balanced budget amendment containing some sort of vicious and arbitrary limit on federal spending.

Either way, the Republicans will have some explaining to do, because they’ve trapped themselves:

I’m not sure congressional Republicans really want to enter a promising midterm election year just having engineered another phony crisis, but I also don’t know if they can put this particular genie back in the bottle. It’s taken a few years, but the GOP has managed to talk itself into a very firm belief that this national version of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health plan is a satanic abomination that will either, depending on which talking point they are following at any particular moment, crash and burn taking the entire U.S. economy down with it, or succeed in seducing Americans to sell themselves into the voluntary slavery of “socialized medicine.”

Which is it? It cannot be both, and that means trouble:

At a time when major elements of the GOP’s conservative “base” are already convinced – because they hear it constantly from conservative media gabbers – that the only thing standing in the way of total victory for The Cause is the weakness of GOP lawmakers, the “kill Obamacare or shut down the government” war cry could quickly get way out of hand. It doesn’t help that so many conservatives continue to believe, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, that a government shutdown would show Americans how little they actually miss Big Government.

Explaining why the government is shut down, with no services of any sort for anyone, and how that’s wonderful, is harder than explaining why you sent photos of your privates to anonymous sweet young things out there in cyberspace. Anthony Weiner had it easy:

If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner don’t like the idea, they’d better come up with an alternative strategy for dealing with the autumn fiscal “crisis” and give it some momentum. Otherwise the thrill of imagining themselves denying government-enabled health insurance to 25 or 30 million people could so excite conservative activists that there will be no stopping them.

Mitch McConnell and John Boehner may not have any say in the matter. Among other things, they’ll have to explain that they’re powerless. Sorry about that. Hey, guess who’s leading from behind now!

There are other voices. Those two, and most of the Tea Party crowd, think John McCain is a dangerous fool and a wimp, and a pain in the ass, and a loser, but John McCain offered this:

Some of my Republican colleagues are already saying we won’t raise the debt limit unless there’s repeal of ObamaCare. I’d love to repeal ObamaCare, but I promise you that that’s not going to happen on the debt limit. So, some would like to set up another one of these shutdown-the-government threats. And most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington.

McCain has had a long career of explaining himself to others, starting with a few odd accidents from when he was a reckless young fighter pilot, so he knows bullshit explanations when he hears them, and calls them shenanigans, a word that few use anymore. Younger folks use a different word. Bullshit will do.

Andrew Sullivan, who longs for a sort of conservatism that never really existed in America, calls these guys out on all this:

What stands out to me – again – is the nihilism of it all. A candidate ran for president on a platform for a right-of-center plan for universal health coverage, much more incremental than the Clintons’ proposal, far less statist than Nixon’s, and adopting several conservative ideas – such as the healthcare exchanges which already seem to be bearing fruit in lowering premium prices.

He got it through the Congress, was re-elected solidly, his own party won the popular vote in both Houses … and the GOP in the House is effectively threatening to sabotage the economy and the government’s fiscal stability to cut off its funding. What do they intend to do about tens of millions of people without insurance (or more than ten million people living in this country without papers)? Not a single thing – except to offer bromides against big government that could have been uttered (and were) in the 1980s.

Sullivan then takes it upon himself to explain things, to explain the Republican Party:

It is a nullification party, unable to pass anything itself but endless, fruitless repeals of the ACA, incapable of supporting immigration reform as well as health reform, eager to deny the president even his own executive officials, and abusing the filibuster to make any kind of progress in addressing what few deny are real problems. This is a protest movement – not a democratic opposition. It’s acting out, not opposing.

And its only rationale is to drag this president down, even if it means, as it has, that their own reputation is at record lows. And they are having some small effect as Americans understandably look at Washington’s mess and throw up a little in their mouths.

It’s almost hopeless:

What can the president do? He’s decided to go out on the trail again urging more action on the economy and rightly touting his economic stewardship as the most effective in the West since the crisis began. He’ll be trying to reach precisely those Americans who need health insurance when the new law comes into effect.

It turns out the election meant nothing to the GOP. Their contempt for the public as a whole – and not just their primary voters – is palpable. And their positive contribution to the issues facing this country and the world are non-existent.

Yes, they have some explaining to do, and it’s not about their out-of-control sexual urges. They should be so lucky.

Steve Benen puts it this way:

I was talking to a friend over the weekend about current events, and when the subject turned to health care, I mentioned Republican efforts to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act. He asked a fair question: “In real-world terms, what does that mean, exactly?”

Benen goes on to explain what it means, exactly, in great detail – a good read – and ends with this:

Don’t forget that this has simply never happened before. There is no precedent in American history for Congress approving a massive new public benefit, a president signing it into law, the Supreme Court endorsing the benefit’s legality, and then having an entire political party actively and shamelessly working to sabotage the law.

We can talk about why Republicans are doing this… but the fact that these sabotage efforts are underway is undeniable.

As Jonathan Bernstein recently explained, “It’s possible that the ACA will collapse. But if it does, it’s unlikely it will be the result of inherent problems with the legislation. If Obamacare fails, it’s going to be because the Republican Party’s all-out war on it — a war that doesn’t seem to have any concern at all for health-care consumers or the economy – succeeds. Whether that’s a good thing for health care? Well, that doesn’t seem to be part of the equation.”

Sullivan calls them saboteurs and vandals. This is the kind of thing nasty kids try to get away with, until they’re caught and the exasperated parent demands that they explain themselves, right now. That’s when the kid longs to be an adult, when no one will or even can demand an explanation of anything they do – which was always an odd concept of adulthood. It seems that Republicans still cling to that odd concept of adulthood. It’s a kid’s view of adulthood, which means that they never did grow up, and, by the way, they didn’t win the lottery either. It’s time for real explanations.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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