Hot Republican-On-Republican Action

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JONATHAN CHAIT JULY 27, 2011

Hot Republican-On-Republican Action

The internecine fighting among conservatives over the Boehner plan has much of the same ideological and stylistic feel of a late 1960's feud pitting left-wing factions that favor immediate violence against those seeking more time to radicalize the masses. The less-extreme faction clearly has the better of the argument, yet the overwhelming impression is the sheer fanaticism of the whole political subculture. Here's the Heritage Foundation, led by Dick Cheney's former chief of staff David Addington pressing the case for the burn-it-down faction:

Americans sent a message in the election of 2010 — cut the size and cost of government.  Conservatives must act now to drive down spending on the way to a balanced budget, while protecting America, and without raising taxes.  Forget the McConnell, McConnell-Reid, Coburn, Gang-of-Six, Boehner, and Reid plans.  Go with the American plan — cut government spending, deeply and right now, for the good of the country.

How will this happen? The theory seems to be that inflicting enough pain on the economy will force Democrats to buckle and accept a Constitutional limitation locking in Eisenhower-levels of domestic spending. It's madness, of course. But Boehner's "moderate" proposal rests on an only slightly weaker version of this same operating theory:

Boehner also predicted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Senate Democrats will have to pass his proposal once the House does. Reid has an alternate plan to cut $2.7 trillion while raising the debt limit. White House officials warned on Tuesday that they will recommend President Barack Obama veto the Boehner plan if it gets to the Oval Office. The U.S. government is set to default on Aug. 2 on its $14.3 trillion debt if the borrowing limit is not raised.

“If this gets chaotic, they [the Senate] will fold like a cheap suit,” Boehner said, according to GOP sources.

Possibly true, though one has to be concerned about the use of a political strategy dependent on the threat, or actual existence, of political and financial chaos. It's not the ideal disposition one would like to see in one's national leadership.

The primary culture difference between left-wing radicals and right-wing radicals is that the latter have a deep individualistic streak. (It's shared by libertarians, and both tend to react to differences by splintering into sub-factions.) Right-wingers, by contrast, are moved by appeals to unity and authority. Thus Boehner is instructing his troops to fall in line:

Speaker John Boehner bluntly told wavering GOP lawmakers Wednesday morning to “get your ass in line” behind his debt ceiling bill. ...

“This is the bill,” Boehner informed a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Wedneday morning. “I can’t do this job unless you’re behind me.”

The leadership also tried to fire up restive members with an open appeal to subsume any moral considerations to group loyalty, showing them this film clip:

And members of Congress today were chanting for the firing of a staffer working against Boehner:

House Republicans on Wednesday morning were calling for the firing of the Republican Study Committee top staffer after he was caught sending e-mails to conservative groups urging them to pressure GOP lawmakers to vote against a debt proposal from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Infuriated by the e-mails from Paul Teller, the executive director of the RSC, members started chanting “Fire him, fire him!” while Teller stood silently at a closed-door meetings of House Republicans.

This is all the work of the party's less-crazy faction. 

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posted in: jonathan chait, david addington, dick cheney, harry reid, john boehner, nevada, republican party, senate, the heritage

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