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The Real Credibility Crisis in Washington: Congressional Republicans | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

The Real Credibility Crisis in Washington: Congressional Republicans


House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

My new Think Again: Rupert Makes the News—Literally. It’s about Murdoch and the Australian elections, Tony Blair and Iraq, and what a bad idea it would be to allow him to take over The LA Times and the Chicago Tribune, etc.

A few things: 
1) I ran into Marshall Berman with my kid at the Metro Diner on 100th and Broadway on Tuesday night and we talked optimistically about de Blasio. Metro was our place, apparently. I learned that the following day, also at the Metro Diner, Marshall had a fatal heart attack. Todd Gitlin has a nice piece about him here

Classy John Podhoretz, in a tweet, compared this brilliant Jewish/humanist scholar to a Nazi, the day after his death. Which is funny because his brother in law, Elliot Abrams, enabled actual genocide in Guatemala and proceeded to slander the people who tried to stop it as Communist sympathizers. You can read about that here.  His sister Rachel wanted to see genocide committed against Palestinians who supported Hamas. Don’t believe it? Here’s what she wrote. They were:

“the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them not into your prisons, where they can bide until they’re traded by the thousands for another child of Israel, but into the sea, to float there, food for sharks, stargazers, and whatever other oceanic carnivores God has put there for the purpose.”

(And I haven’t even mentioned Norman or Midge. Sheesh, what a family: The Madoffs of political punditry and policy. As if the Jewish people have not suffered enough...) And of course Berman's wonderful "All That's Solid Melts Into Air" is a more significant contribution to culture than that of all Poddies added together.... Still comparing a gentle Jewish writer to a Nazi a day after his death would get any editor fired—especially an editor of a Jewish magazine—if only daddy had not gotten him the job.... lucky “John P. Normson” can begin atoning tonight.

2) The terrific British World War II detective series, Foyle’s War starts its seventh three-episode season on PBS this weekend. You can find the recently released on bluray and dvd with more than two hours of bonus features which I haven’t had a chance to watch yet. British television specialist Acorn is streaming them the day after broadcast at www.Acorn.TV and offers all previous 22 episodes. You’ll be grateful to me if you’ve not yet indulged. Also out on bluray from Acorn, Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection. I’ve reviewed them here before when on DVD and I do recommend it, though not as strongly as Foyle.

3) How did you know? From the Times New York Today file: The former good-guy pro wrestler Bruno Sammartino (your childhood hero, perhaps) donates a replica of his championship belt to the Italian American Museum and speaks out against bullying.

Now here's Reed:

The Real Credibility Crisis in Washington: Congressional Republicans
by Reed Richardson

There’s one word that, like a bad penny, keeps re-appearing among pundits and politicians these past few weeks: credibility. It has become the overly simplistic prism through which the Beltway crowd now views every one of President Obama’s decisions regarding the civil war in Syria. Sad to say, the president himself isn’t above invoking this nebulous idea of “credibility” to justify his plans for military strikes against the Assad regime. (A use of force that I oppose.) In the world of our nation’s capital, conventional wisdom has once again turned the focus of a complicated policy issue with broad, life-and-death consequences into an insular, petty, process story.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, certainly. Still, it’s no less striking to see how the Capitol Hill crowd’s obsession with phony credibility mirrors horserace political coverage that is thoroughly uninterested in policy outcomes or facts on the ground. For example, when Obama belatedly decided to seek Congressional approval—an abrupt, last-minute move, but a wise one nonetheless—hyperventilating pundits only howled even louder about the long-term danger of his indecisiveness. Of course, this exercise of democracy wouldn’t degrade our military’s capability to strike Syria one bit. It was, however, a major transgression against the Beltway’s fascination with “decisive” “resolute” “leadership.” Or as one pundit put it, with seemingly little interest in having the head of our executive branch abide by the Constitution, Obama wasn’t following “presidential best practices.”

Likewise, when an 11th hour bid from Russia again changed the policy landscape on Syria—offering the Obama administration a potential modus vivendi it smartly pursued—many of the same DC insiders previously outraged at the president’s rush to war immediately began deriding the plodding pace of diplomacy. No doubt, Russia’s President Putin is a disingenuous partner, at best, but that doesn’t change the fact that a brokered, diplomatic solution offers the only real chance for the US to effectively achieve its broader policy goal—securing and destroying all of Assad’s chemical weapons stores—without having to invade another Middle East country. It is a low bar for sure, but after eight years of the Bush administration, I’ll take any foreign policy—ad hoc or not—that ends up eliminating actual WMDs without causing tens of thousands of deaths.

American credibility isn’t actually at risk from the president’s pursuit of a peaceful solution to Syria’s WMDs. Instead, the real credibility crisis in Washington is that the Republican Party is simply no longer capable of or interested in the responsible governance of our nation. Though this crisis has been brewing for years and now threatens the very functioning of our democracy, it doesn’t generate anywhere near the same amount of concerted pundit outrage or frantic media attention.

Since the GOP gained a majority in the House in 2010, Congress has effectively ceased normal legislative work. Undermined by a nihilistic Tea Party rump that reflexively opposes anything the president supports, the House Republican caucus now routinely fails at passing even its own conservative legislation (and boasts of job approval ratings nearing the single digits). Speaker Boehner, in a flailing attempt at remaining relevant, has tried to co-opt the hardcore, repeal-everything message, but to no avail. Instead, he’s grown increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual.

Consider that nearly two years ago—before recent GOP voting debacles on the fiscal cliff, Sandy aid, health care legislation, and the farm bill—the DC insider publication Politico ran a story with the headline: “Has John Boehner lost control?” This week, when asked about the latest uproar from his caucus’s right flank—over a bill deemed controversial because it would dare to pass a continuing resolution without defunding the Affordable Care Act—the Speaker sounded like a man both beset and bemused by the surreal state of his party’s direction.

“A reporter asked [Boehner] whether he has a new idea to resolve the government funding fight. He laughed and said, ‘No.’

‘Do you have an idea?’ he asked the reporters. ‘They’ll just shoot it down anyway.’”

This kind of alarming acknowledgement should be front-page news. It should be a nightly topic of cable news talk shows. It should be an ongoing point of discussion in op-ed pages across the country. But, again, the media’s process-obsessed mindset won’t let it step back to see the broader outcome for such obstruction. Hence, elected Republican officials in Washington pay no price for proudly spouting rhetorical doubletalk that would no doubt make George Orwell’s head spin:

“Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said this is a fight conservatives are ready to have, despite the political stakes for the GOP being seen as forcing a fight over shutting down the government.

“‘I think that's a risk you have to take,’ he said, ‘Any path forward, there's a political downside to it. We didn't come here to get re-elected and have safe political careers. We came here to get things done.’”

That’s right, in Kingston’s mind, getting things done can be defined as hijacking the federal government in pursuit of a quixotic political crusade (one that a strong majority of the public opposes). And keep in mind that Kingston is one of three House conservatives—along with Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey—running for the open Georgia Senate seat next year and he is considered the most moderate of the three. Only in an era where the modern Republican Party has fully gone off the rails and abandoned any pretense of legislative credibility could someone like Kingston be characterized in the press as “not known for being a hard liner.”

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Exacerbating this breakdown in the GOP is an ongoing internecine battle between House and Senate Republicans that is mostly ignored by the pundits. A cadre of hard-right conservative GOP Senators, led by Ted Cruz, have effectively gone rogue, disregarding their party’s leaders who (rightly) fear the GOP will be blamed for a government shutdown later this fall. Nevertheless, Cruz has taken to criss-crossing the country like a snake oil salesman, captivating the Republican base with chimerical tales of how they can overturn Obama’s signature health care achievement if they just hate the government hard enough.

Sadly, this abdication of any credible interest in governance on the part of Republicans is all too often unfairly balanced against trifling Democratic moves by the media. Or the GOP’s behavior is inexplicably blamed on Obama as his fault for not “leading.” Either way, what’s left unsaid is the critically important challenge facing American credibility right now. And it isn’t that our president might be willing to change his mind occasionally in an attempt to avoid unnecessary war. It’s that the Republican Party has decided it is unwilling to change its mind about conducting an unnecessary war against government.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.
I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

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