There was a time that to the winner went the spoils. Political parties understood that the results of elections had consequences as they related to what legislation was introduced and ultimately passed. Of course, the losing party had input and was able to affect the final form of legislation, but in general, both parties, and most importantly, the electorate, understood that the winners of the election were going to shape the political agenda within that election cycle.
But somehow the beltway republican party has forgotten this political axiom. Not only can they not appear to accept a relatively decisive national defeat, but many of them are attempting to act as if getting beaten badly actually translates into a win. 2012 is going to be remembered as an election of competing ideologies. The republican party approached the election as the party of big business and anti-taxation. They campaigned on a platform of lowering government revenues and decreasing government services. They pressed for privatization of social security and medicare and extremely conservative religious intrusion into society. The democrats, on the other hand campaigned on the policy of utilizing government to help steady the economy, increasing governmental revenues and services. They campaigned on strengthening the public committment to social security and medicare. They campaigned on higher revenues from the richest Americans. They supported a continued strong separation of church and state.
The people spoke with conviction. They re-elected the president with a 6 percentage point and 120+ electoral vote majority. They increased their majority in the senate and they closed the gap in the house of representatives. At every turn, in almost every region of the nation, the nation spoke clearly. The democratic vision was preferred by the nation.
In most other years, this would have been the end of the story. But in the somewhat wacky world of insane republican politics, we only hear fringe discussions of compatible governance from legislators. What we hear from the republican leadership is a rather strange version of Orwellian "governmentspeak". We listen to Senator McConnell, the minority leader of the senate tell reporters that the president and the democratic party did not have any mandate for any legislation. Mr. McConnell somehow interpreted the election to mean the people of the United States gave the democratic party a convincing electoral victory so that the republicans could continue to obstruct any progress that they might to to make. The implicit threat to continue to use the threat of procedural veto came through loud and clear. Mr. McConnell's intention to use that tactic became clear when the Majority leader, Harry Reid announced that he was going to seek to change the filibuster rule and return it to what it had traditionally been. The squeals from the McConnell camp made one think that the elephant was being prepared for skewering.
The reaction was not much different in the house of representatives. While there werre a number of republican representatives who understood that the people of the country had spoken, John Boehner, the house leader, came up with his own recording of doublespeak. When asked about debt reduction negotiations and tax relief for the middle class along with expiration of tax cuts on the wealthy, Mr. Boehner decided that this was a good time to insist that the election was a good time to insist that the result was actually a mandate for the republicans to demand that the democrats bring cuts to entitlement programs to the bargaining table along with cuts to the Affordable Care Act before he would bring allowing the tax cuts for the wealthy to be discussed. Even the most skeptical of observers looked askance at Boehner's latest verbage.
The issue is that there is no normal in electoral politics any more. The republican party has made it clear that as long as they are dominated by a stringently conservative tea party wing, the solution to every problem, every electoral loss, every national crisis is to become more strident, move further to the right, place more and more governmental programs on the cutting room table. They are going to operate by trying to induce so much fear into republican officials that they take these absurdist positions public with the hope that they don't get a challenge from the far right of their party in the next primary season.
For much of America, this will be looked upon as a continued nuisance propagated by a regional conservatism and a moneyed elite who are losing their way in the world of electoral politics. It is a plan that will lead to the eventual demise of the republican party. Many of us might see that as good, but it isn't. The nation requires a vibrant and active two party system that argues big issues with competing, yet rational ideas. We are all the weaker as a nation when only one party is concerned about bettering the nation. What we should hope for is a revival of a real republican party. A party that has realistic ideas, that opens up to all, regardless of race, gender, or sexual preference, that rejects implied racism and homophobia.
Republicanism may never be for me. But as an American and a person who considers himself and the democratic party I identify with not to be infallible, I want to see an opposition party that pushes us to greater things. I want to see a brand of republicanism that we all can be proud of. I want republicans to be the loyal opposition when we win, and I want us to be able to be the loyal opposition when the republican's win. That should be the American way. Boehner, McConnell and their tea party republican colleagues have it totally wrong. There is nothing loyal about what they are doing. They are only continuing to be an embarassment to American politics.