Of the many factors that contributed to the GOP’s substantial losses in the 2012 elections, perhaps the most significant are that today’s GOP is focused on obstructionism and denying reality, rather than on making a serious effort to address the serious economic, social, and foreign policy challenges facing our nation. The GOP’s obstructionism has led to, among other things, an inability to fully address the impacts of the 2008 recession, the downgrading of the nation’s credit rating due to the debt ceiling fight, and growing levels of vacancies on the federal judiciary. And far too much of the GOP has been focused on climate denial, rejecting evolution, birtherism, anti-immigrant nativism, death panels, Black Panthers, the myth of voter fraud, “creeping” Sharia law, denying that rape can lead to pregnancy, and other ridiculousness, rather than on serious issues like jobs and economic growth. Faced with the choice of steady and pragmatic Democratic leadership versus a Republican Party that has gone off the deep end, it is not surprising that voters chose the Democrats.
The results of the 2012 elections have led some Republicans to suggest that the party has learned its lesson and is already moderating its approach by, for example, reaching out to Latino voters, being more open to compromise, and prioritizing jobs and the economy. But the reality is that there is virtually no evidence that the GOP is offering anything more than meaningless talk on these issues.
If you want to get a sense of just how empty the purported efforts by the GOP to return to sanity are, check out David Brooks’ recent column in the New York Times, titled The Republican Glasnost. Brooks claims that:
Over the past month, the Republican Party has changed far more than I expected. First, the people at the ideological extremes of the party have begun to self-ghettoize. The Tea Party movement attracted many people who are drawn to black and white certainties and lock-step unity. People like that have a tendency to migrate from mainstream politics, which is inevitably messy and impure, to ever more marginal oases of purity.
. . . . .
Second, politics is being reborn. For a time, Republican candidates like Richard Mourdock of Indiana proudly declared that they didn’t believe in compromise. Political activists spent more time purging deviationists than in trying to attract new converts.
But that mania has passed.
. . . . .
Finally, there has even been some shifting of economic values, or at least in how the party presents those values.
And what does Brooks offer as proof of these alleged major changes in the GOP? The primary “evidence” that he points to is speeches by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at last week’s Jack Kemp Leadership Foundation Award dinner in which the two offered some positive rhetoric about economic opportunity, reducing poverty, and immigration. This is weak tea to say the least. While Rubio and Ryan’s speeches included some nice-sounding, though vague, platitudes, they offered little in the way of policies to support such platitudes or to moderate the core Republican strategy of providing tax giveaways to the wealthy, increasing military spending, eviscerating Medicare and Social Security, and demolishing the safety net. While Rubio and Ryan may be offering some nice talk to try to mask their policy goals and make themselves appear more palatable to the media as they gear up for likely Presidential candidacies in 2016, unless those policy goals change there is little reason to think that the GOP itself is changing.
More importantly, a look at Republican actions since the election demonstrates that the GOP crazy train is continuing to chug along virtually unabated. For example, any claim that the GOP is returning to reality is belied by the Senate Republicans’ absolutely disgusting vote last week against ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. As described at this FAQ:
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is a treaty that describes the obligations of ratifying countries to promote, protect, fulfill, and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities. The treaty embodies the American ideals that form the basis of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): empowering persons with disabilities to be independent and productive citizens
Ratifying the treaty would have put the US in a leadership role in helping to advance the cause of equality for persons with disabilities throughout the world, would have helped equalize employment standards regarding disabilities throughout the world, and would have assisted Americans living abroad who have disabilities. Ratification of the Convention was endorsed by the US Chamber of Commerce and every major veterans organization, and former Senator Bob Dole, who has a disability as the result of his military service in World War II, made a special trip to the US Senate to encourage his fellow Republicans to vote for the Convention. Yet ratification went down to defeat in the Senate because all but eight Republican Senators voted against it. And why did they do so? Because Rick Santorum (R-13th Century) and Glenn Beck raised blatantly false conspiracy theories about the Convention threatening US sovereignty and letting the United Nations dictate how people raise their children. Such conspiracy theories are typically limited to the tin-foil hat crowd, but in today’s Republican Senate caucus, they trump common sense and disabled WWII veterans like Bob Dole.
Other evidence that the GOP has not changed abounds. For example, last week Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has been in charge of the Senate Republicans’ obstructionism strategy for the past four years, took obstructionism to new heights when he filibustered legislation that he himself had proposed. Over in the House, the GOP has selected only white males as chairs of the nineteen major committees, and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is to be headed by a climate skeptic, Lamar Smith (R-TX).
Finally, Brooks suggests that there are “increasing signs that House Republicans are willing to unite behind Speaker John Boehner so he can cut a deal to avert the ‘fiscal cliff.'” It is true that House Republicans are realizing that they have no real bargaining power because, without a deal, taxes will go up for everyone next year and the American people will hold the GOP responsible for that result. And yet, Boehner and the rest of the House Republican leadership have not really put a serious proposal on the table. Instead, they are demanding lower tax rates, combined with closure of unidentified loopholes, that would purportedly provide increased revenue only due to the mythical growth that allegedly would result from such tax changes. And Boehner has made it clear that he plans to hold our economy hostage each time there is a need to increase the debt ceiling. In short, there is little sign that the GOP believes more in compromise today than it did before the 2012 elections.
Brooks is a GOP apologist who make lots of money pretending to be a “reasonable” centrist. As such, it is understandable that he needs to keep telling himself that the GOP is changing so that he can feel better about continuing to support a party that is riding a crazy train to nowhere. But, as the actions of Republicans over the past months have shown, it is going to take a lot more than a couple of speeches full of platitudes for the Republican Party to free itself of the crazy that has taken over what used to be the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower.