“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” ~ Niels Bohr
“The future is here. It’s just not widely distributed yet.” ~ William Gibson
“The future ain’t what it used to be.” ~ Yogi Berra
“I have seen the future and it doesn’t work.” ~ Robert Fulford
The week between Christmas and the early-morning hangover that starts the New Year is a dead time in politics. House members and senators are back in their home districts or home state, trying to say as little as possible about anything, as it’s been a bad year. No one wants to explain that government shutdown or why Congress did next to nothing – putting them on pace to pass the fewest bills in a two-year term since World War II with another year to go. It seems that two-thirds of people in the United States say the current Congress is the worst of their lifetime and seventy percent say the few things Congress has done, which no one quite remembers, were useless nonsense, or worse. Passing an actual budget at the end of the year, the first actual budget since 2009 or so, impressed no one. Democrats and Republicans struck the best deal they could without compromising on anything either side really cared about – Republicans took entitlement reform and keeping taxes on the very rich very low off the table, and Democrats took the extension of long-term unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage off the table, and no one said one word about immigration reform or gun control or Obamacare or anything else. Congress is not finally working again. There’s no farm bill, something that has always passed with no fuss or muss, but not this time, so the agricultural subsidies that keep our food relatively cheap, and sometimes safe, are in limbo, as is the food stamp program, that keeps a quarter of the population alive. The military was funded, and a few other things, and some of the brutal sequestration cuts were eased, slightly – but that’s about it. It was a punt. They’ll get to all that other stuff next year – or they won’t. Sometimes the future doesn’t work.
No politician wants to explain that to his or her constituents, and the president is spending the holidays in his native Hawaii, also saying little. His job is to administer the laws passed by Congress, and if they pass next to nothing, there’s nothing to work with. He can urge Congress to act on this or that, but he can’t pass laws all by himself, so it’s best to work on foreign policy, and, as commander-in-chief, to manage our wars. That’ll have to do. It’s a quiet time.
That means it’s also a time to think about what comes next year. No one wants more of the same, but prediction is very difficult, especially about the future, but it does seem the Republicans will have to make some adjustments:
With the first enrollment deadline now passed, Republicans who have made the repeal of President Obama’s health care law their central aim are confronting a new reality: More than two million Americans are expected to be getting their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act come Jan. 1.
The enrollment figures may be well short of what the Obama administration had hoped for. But the fact that a significant number of Americans are now benefiting from the program is resulting in a subtle shift among Republicans.
“It’s no longer just a piece of paper that you can repeal and it goes away,” said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and a Tea Party favorite. “There’s something there. We have to recognize that reality. We have to deal with the people that are currently covered under Obamacare.”
Yep, once a program is in place, and benefits flowing, you don’t want to be the party that wants to take stuff away from people, so the best you can do is tinker with things:
Republicans are considering several ideas for how to proceed. Mr. Johnson argued that Congress should do away with the mandate that most people obtain insurance, but not the online exchanges at the heart of the law. Instead, he said, the options in the marketplaces should be augmented by other choices that fall short of the law’s coverage standards, such as catastrophic health plans. (Many policy analysts and insurance companies say such a move would not work, because the mandates are essential to delivering a diverse pool of uninsured people.)
There you go – if you’re a Republican you can’t offend the giant for-profit insurance companies, and not be able to finance another campaign ever again, and maybe you don’t want to say there should be no insurance standards and no regulation of the industry, so people are free at last, free to be tricked into buying fake insurance. Republicans are stuck here, and they know they’re running out of horror stories about how bad Obamacare is. Too many people will soon be relieved to finally have health insurance. Those horror stories, about the few folks who had to pay a bit more than they thought, will seem more and more like anomalies. They were anyway.
The Republicans have lots of vague ideas for other ways to fix our healthcare system – tax credits and such – and the rollout of Obamacare has been a bit of a mess – but no one trusts them now:
If Obama’s approval rating on health care is tepid, Congress’s is abysmal. Just 19 percent of Americans approve of the way congressional Republicans are handling health care. Still, a New York Times/CBS News poll this month showed that nearly two-thirds of Republicans wanted to have the Affordable Care Act repealed – and most Republican lawmakers are appealing to those constituents.
“A few million people are buying a product that has features they don’t want, paying more for it than they should have to pay for it because they had to buy it through this government-mandated mechanism,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think that changes anything fundamentally at all.”
Asked what should be done with the millions of people getting health care through the law, Senator Dan Coats, Republican of Indiana, said, “Call the White House and ask them.”
That’s despair. They’ve got nothing, and they know it. They’re playing to their nineteen percent. We can expect more of the same, and expect Obamacare to remain, and become something quite ordinary and accepted – like Social Security and Medicare, which even that nineteen percent think are just fine, because all of the older white base of the party is on Social Security and Medicare and would fight tooth and nail if anyone tried to take it from them. Even Margaret Thatcher didn’t dare go after the NHS. Obamacare will be embedded in American life like that, sooner or later, and maybe in the next year.
The nineteen percent is the problem, and some are now ganging up on them:
Business groups are willing to spend big bucks to diminish the influence of the most activist conservatives and win a Republican majority in the Senate in 2014 with more centrist GOP candidates.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce plans to aggressively shore up the campaigns of business-friendly establishment candidates in the New Year, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday – to the tune of at least $50 million.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” the Chamber of Commerce’s top political strategist, Scott Reed, told the Journal. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
The conservative, Karl Rove-backed super PAC American Crossroads is also on board, according to the Journal.
The government shutdown was the final straw. Even those who were all for it, to end Obamacare once and for all, knew it was never going to work, and admitted as much, and the shutdown was an economic and political catastrophe. There will be no such fools on our ticket! Never again!
As Talking Points Memo reports, those words might have been a bad way to put it:
Outside conservative groups quickly denounced the Chamber of Commerce for planning to spend tens of millions to boost pro-business Republicans against challenges from ultra-conservative primary challengers…
“Special interests in Washington will do whatever it takes to protect big government Republicans,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins wrote in an email to TPM on Thursday. “Their ability to get future bailouts, kickbacks, and other favors depends on it.”
Similarly, Daniel Horowitz, the policy director for The Madison Project and a blogger for Red State called the Chamber of Commerce’s efforts “pretty pathetic.”
Horowitz wrote this:
With Congress’s approval rating in the single digits, there is a bipartisan consensus among the people that it’s time for a new direction. Whether people agree with all of our views or not, the Tea Party is actually the only group willing to do something about the status quo. We are trying to replace the leadership of both parties and install citizen legislator candidates who will not be tied to special interests and will not make politics a career.
Amazingly, the Chamber is just the opposite. They are happy with the status quo, as long as their interests are taken care of. They claim to represent the business community, but they only represent the power brokers. If the strongest players on the block are those in power, they will circle the wagons around them. This is what Jim DeMint used to call venture socialism. They are fine with big government and government intervention so long as they can make money off of it. It’s pretty pathetic to spend $50 million defending the status quo that everyone on both sides of the spectrum believes has failed the country.
They may go down, but they’ll go down swinging, but Karl Rove says they’ll be left behind:
Every Republican senator and virtually every representative challenged in a primary as insufficiently conservative will win. In reaction to ObamaCare, GOP political divisions are giving way to unity.
So, the Tea Party will disappear, and Republicans will all agree with each other on everything, presumably including Ted Cruz, and there’s this:
Duck Dynasty will set another cable viewership record. Miley Cyrus will fade as a cultural phenomenon. Sandra Bullock will win an Oscar for “Gravity.” Peyton Manning will win a fifth MVP award and the Seattle Seahawks their first Lombardi Trophy.
Karl Rove has been wrong before. Romney didn’t win Ohio, no matter what Rove said on Fox News, even after they set him straight on election night. He may be right about the Seattle Seahawks however.
Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future, but one can expect a political continuum, which means that the Tea Party isn’t going away, as the Atlantic’s Theda Skocpol – co-author with Vanessa Williamson of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism (2011) – explains in this item:
The Tea Party was supposed to be dead and the GOP on the way to moderate repositioning after Obama’s victory and Democratic congressional gains in November 2012. Yet less than a year after post-election GOP soul-searching supposedly occurred, radical forces pulled almost all GOP House and Senate members into at least going along with more than two weeks of extortion tactics to try to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to gut the Affordable Care Act and grant a long laundry list of other GOP priorities suspiciously similar to the platform on which the party had run and lost in 2012. The Tea Party’s hold on the GOP persists beyond each burial ceremony.
That’s because it’s an organic movement funded by opportunists:
At the grassroots, volunteer activists formed hundreds of local Tea Parties, meeting regularly to plot public protests against the Obama Administration and place steady pressure on GOP organizations and candidates at all levels. At least half of all GOP voters sympathize with this Tea Party upsurge. They are overwhelmingly older, white, conservative-minded men and women who fear that “their country” is about to be lost to mass immigration and new extensions of taxpayer-funded social programs (like the Affordable Care Act) for low- and moderate-income working-aged people, many of whom are black or brown. Fiscal conservatism is often said to be the top grassroots Tea Party priority, but Williamson and I did not find this to be true. Crackdowns on immigrants, fierce opposition to Democrats, and cuts in spending for the young were the overriding priorities we heard from volunteer Tea Partiers, who are often, themselves, collecting costly Social Security, Medicare, and veterans’ benefits to which they feel fully entitled as Americans who have “paid their dues” in lifetimes of hard work.
On the other end of the organizational spectrum, big-money funders and free-market advocacy organizations used angry grassroots protests to expand their email lists and boost longstanding campaigns to slash taxes, shrink social spending, privatize Medicare and Social Security, and eliminate or block regulations (including carbon controls). In 2009, groups such as FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and Tea Party Express (a renamed conservative GOP political action committee) leapt on the bandwagon; more recently, the Senate Conservative Action Fund and Heritage Action have greatly bolstered the leveraging capacities of the Tea Party as a whole. Elite activities ramped up after many Tea Party legislators were elected in 2010.
But there’s something even more important:
Even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority – indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center – the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincer operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea Party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the Tea Party or its methods, Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. Most legislators and candidates are Nervous Nellies, so all Tea Party activists, sympathizers, and funders have had to do is recurrently demonstrate their ability to knock off seemingly unchallengeable Republicans (ranging from Charlie Crist in Florida to Bob Bennett of Utah to Indiana’s Richard Lugar). That grabs legislators’ attention and results in either enthusiastic support for or acquiescence to obstructive tactics. The entire pincer operation is further enabled by various right-wing tracking organizations that keep close count of where each legislator stands on “key votes” – including even votes on amendments and the tiniest details of parliamentary procedure, the kind of votes that legislative leaders used to orchestrate in the dark.
Given that, this is what we got:
In the latest such maneuver during the summer of 2013, radical-right Texas Senator Ted Cruz put himself forward as a bold Tea Party strategist calling for a renewed all-out crusade to kill Obamacare long after it was assured survival by the Supreme Court and the 2012 presidential election. With his strong ties to far-right funders and ideologues, plus a self-assured, even arrogant, pugnaciousness that thrills much of the GOP electorate, Cruz could direct a chunk of House Republicans to pressure a weak Boehner into proceeding with the government shutdown and debt brinkmanship. Apologists say Boehner was “reluctant,” but what difference does that make? He went along.
After the immediate effort flopped and caused most Americans to further sour on Republicans, Cruz remained unbowed – and why not? After all, Cruz gained near-total name recognition and sky-high popularity among Tea Party voters. He now appears regularly on television, and his antics have allowed elite Tea Party forces to lock in draconian reductions in federal spending for coming rounds of budget struggles. Americans may resent the Tea Party, but they are also losing ever more faith in the federal government – a big win for anti-government saboteurs. Popularity and “responsible governance” are not the goals of Tea Party forces, and such standards should not be used to judge the accomplishments of those who aim to undercut, block, and delay – even as Tea Party funders remain hopeful about holding their own or making further gains in another low-turnout midterm election in November 2014.
In short, they don’t care what voters think of them. They’ve found another means to power, and they know that budget agreement was nonsense. They’re in this for the long game:
At least three successive national election defeats will be necessary to even begin to break the determination and leverage of Tea Party adherents. Grassroots Tea Partiers see themselves in a last-ditch effort to save “their country,” and big-money ideologues are determined to undercut Democrats and sabotage active government. They are in this fight for the long haul. Neither set of actors will stand down easily or very soon.
Also worth remembering is that “moderate Republicans” barely exist right now. Close to two-thirds of House Republicans voted against bipartisan efforts to reopen the federal government and prevent U.S. default on loan obligations, and Boehner has never repudiated such extortionist tactics. Tea Partiers may not call for another shutdown right away, but they will continue to be able to draw most GOP legislators and leaders into aggressive efforts to obstruct and delay. In the electorate, moreover, more than half of GOP voters sympathize with the Tea Party and cheer on obstructionist tactics, and the remaining Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are disorganized and divided in their views of the likes of Ted Cruz.
That’s the future, and it doesn’t work, because they don’t want it to work. Hell, it’s not supposed to work, and in fact, a radical minority like the Tea Party generates, on its own, the anti-government sentiment it feeds on:
The events of October 2013 helped millions of middle-of-the-road voters – and even quite a few complacent political reporters – grasp the dangers of the sabotage-oriented radicalism in today’s Republican Party. But it will take a long and dogged struggle to root out radical obstructionism on the right, and the years ahead could yet see Tea Partiers succeed by default. Unless non-Tea Party Republicans, independents, and Democrats learn both to defeat and to work around anti-government extremism – finding ways to do positive things for the majority of ordinary citizens along the way- Tea Party forces will still win in the end. They will triumph just by hanging on long enough to cause most Americans to give up in disgust on our blatantly manipulated democracy and our permanently hobbled government.
That’s really why Obamacare scares them. That would be the government working well enough, at least in one area, so that people don’t give up on government entirely. It’s the same with immigration reform, and even road repairs. That’ll be the battle of 2014, the battle to prove that government is a stupid concept – more of the same, intensified.
Ah, but there are also other views of the future:
A top financial advisor, worried that Obamacare, the NSA spying scandal and spiraling national debt is increasing the chances for a fiscal and social disaster, is recommending that Americans prepare a “bug-out bag” that includes food, a gun and ammo to help them stay alive.
David John Marotta, a Wall Street expert and financial advisor and Forbes contributor, said in a note to investors, “Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list. There are some terrible people in this world. And you are safer when your trusted neighbors have firearms.”
His memo is part of a series addressing the potential for a “financial apocalypse.” His view, however, is that the problems plaguing the country won’t result in Armageddon. “There is the possibility of a precipitous decline, although a long and drawn out malaise is much more likely,” said the Charlottesville, Va.-based president of Marotta Wealth Management.
Buy guns for that Armageddon, when the useless forty-seven percent, the Takers, come after the God’s people, the rich, the Makers – but really, what we’ll probably get is a long and drawn out malaise, in which case you can shoot squirrels or the neighbor’s cat or something, for the fun of it. It’ll be something to do in your gated community on a boring Tuesday afternoon.
That’s what the future seems to hold. Be prepared for more of the same. We have a political continuum here.