Ahab Syndrome

Last time, I called the government shutdown a poker game, one where the Republicans were trying to bluff out the Democrats despite only holding a pair of threes. Upon retrospect, I think it was actually worse than that.

I think this budget fight was more akin to a game of Russian Roulette in which every chamber was loaded and the Republicans were the first ones to pick up the gun even though they knew every chamber was loaded and their opponents knew it too.

“I’ll do it,” they said. “I’ll go first and I’ll play and you’ll look like a wimp because I’m taking charge and doing what’s right.”

“Okay,” the Democrats said. “Go right ahead.”

And what was gained, for all this effort and all this spent political capital? You exhausted your good will with all but the most ardent of your base, surely it was for a reason? Nope. Nothing happened. Nothing was accomplished, unless you count costing the economy an estimated $24 billion dollars an accomplishment. Certainly I have never managed to spend $24 billion dollars. So, achievement unlocked! I guess.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that there is an element within the Republican Party that can be diagnosed with Ahab Syndrome. It’s not a real psychiatric disease as far as I know (monomania would be the medical term, but this is more pleasantly literary).

Obamacare is their white whale. It’s the one thing that must be stopped, must be crushed, must be killed. It is the ENEMY. Does it matter if your crew dies around you? Does it matter if your ship is crushed and sunk beneath the waves?

No. All that matters is the objective. All that matters is the end of Obamacare, even if the country burns in the process, even if it costs America its position as the world’s sole superpower.

The worst part? The very worst part? I’m worried that this isn’t going to change. I keep hoping that the Republican party will oust its far right wing element and unshackle itself from the religious right. I keep hoping for the resurgence of the Rockefeller Republican. Not that I would vote Republican even if that was the case, because I am too far to the left, but it’d be nice to work with those guys. I think we could come to compromises more easily and find some common ground.

I’m still hoping this fiasco will mobilize the moderate elements in the party (assuming there are any left) and say, okay, enough is enough, let’s get back to business. Being crazy is bad for business.

And then I read something like this and I worry that all my hopes are in vain:

For a certain block of House conservatives, the ones who drove Speaker John Boehner toward a government shutdown and near-default against his will, the lesson of the last few weeks isn’t that they overreached. Not that they made unachievable demands, put their leadership in an impossible position, damaged their party’s position with the public and left a deep uncertainty about whether the GOP conference can recover and legislate.

No, what they’re taking away from the 2013 crisis is: They didn’t go far enough.

They aren’t angry with Speaker John Boehner for ultimately capitulating to Democratic demands. They’re frustrated with their more mainstream colleagues who put him in that position.

Despite my rhetorical tendency to elaborate and exaggerate (like in the Russian Roulette example above), my general position is to assume that the person on the other side of an argument is not an idiot. Most people are rational. Most people are trying to do the best they can and want to do what they think is right. Very few people wake up in the morning and say, mwahaha, how best might I destabilize the country and run the government into the ground? The ones that do tend to explode or get gunned down by police, not elected to office.

It seems to me that a rational person would look at this situation and say, “wow, you know, we really alienated everybody here. Everybody thinks we’re crazy and extremist. We need to tone things down and win back the respect of the moderate elements.” Make no mistake, the self-reporting moderate element is the largest in the country.

I don’t know how anybody can look at this situation and say, “we didn’t lose because we went too far. We didn’t lose because we were too extreme on this issue. WE LOST BECAUSE WE WEREN’T EXTREME ENOUGH!!!!!1

I had hoped the message learned here is that dysfunction cannot be tolerated for the sake of disagreement. Disagree if you want, argue if you want, but above all else, keep the gears of the machine moving. Don’t jam a wrench into the cogs because you didn’t get your way.

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