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It's hard to describe to political activists who cut their teeth during the Obama era just how intimidating Republicans were during the early 2000s. Conservatives had forced or persuaded a Democratic president to declare the era of big government at an end, to smash welfare, to deregulate Wall Street and pass free trade agreements one after the other. Then Republicans managed to elect an obvious fool to the White House, staging a remarkable display of partisan dominance on the Supreme Court. After 9/11, most progressives were so cowed by the Bush Administration that the majority of online activists at the time only dared go by pseudonyms. Karl Rove was the genius mastermind who sent George W. Bush back to the White House and maintained GOP control of Congress. It was only Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing disaster of Iraq that started to really tarnish the Republican brand. Well, that and the push to privatize Social Security, a misstep that Bush quickly backed away from one he and his handlers realized how harmful it was to them.

But again, it's hard to overestimate how much we all walked in fear and awe of the Republican political achievement, even as we despised their ethics and their policies. Even to this day, much of what progressive organizers do is attempt to catch up in various ways to the institutional dominance of the right on many levels, replicating its successes in moving the national political conversation farther to right on economic issues decade after decade.

Which leads us to today. Those who came of age in the era of Obama have always seen Republicans as incompetent fuddy duddies lost in a bygone era, saved only by the vast amounts of corrupting money they have to throw into the political machine.

But those of us who have been around longer are often genuinely confused. Still shellshocked by the Bush years (and the Reagan and Clinton years, for that matter), we often find it hard to decide: have the Republicans just gone crazy, or are they crazy like a fox?

Are the Tea Partiers actually destroying the GOP brand, or are they sneakily moving the Overton Window to allow for Medicare and Social Security cuts to seem sane by contrast?

I myself am wary, not sure what to believe on any given day. But increasingly, it just seems that Republicans are on a ship without a captain or a rudder. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for some brilliant maneuver that will show the masterful strategic thinking behind their tactics, but I don't think it's coming.

Take, for instance, the politics of Obamacare at the moment. Republicans just got through seriously damaging their brand by shutting down the government for two weeks, making Obamacare more popular in the bargain. They still need to do something to win over minority, youth and women voters or their goose is cooked by the next redistricting or sooner. One would think that Republicans would want to be coming up with some "replacement" plan for Obamacare that would help cover young people, women and minorities. Far be it from me to offer them any ideas, but if I were a Republican strategist right now I would be looking at ways to wedge parts of the Democratic base away from one another, offering revenue neutral subsidies to core voting groups I needed by offering to remove less popular subsidies to smaller Democratic-aligned groups I'll never win. The last thing I would be doing is fighting a law with high marks from Latinos while running ads to encourage young adults not to get health insurance. Sociopathic policy aside, that's just very bad politics.

And I sure as heck wouldn't be poking my fingers in the eyes of seniors, my most loyal voting bloc, by threatening Social Security and Medicare.

Instead, after punching themselves in the face by shutting down the government over Obamacare and "entitlements", they're doubling down on attacking the implementation of the website. Really?

Yes, the website is messed up and it's somewhat embarrassing--though it should be much more embarrassing for neoliberal advocates of public-private partnership kludges than for traditional progressives. But the website is going to be fixed by the time the deadlines approach, which is incidentally when the majority of people will sign up.

But even in the worst case scenario where the website does stay broken, people in need of decent health insurance aren't simply going to give up. They'll do it the old-fashioned way by calling, faxing, scanning and going to offices in person if need be. Anyone who thinks they won't, doesn't realize the nationwide healthcare desperation that forced the legislation in the first place.

Which means that by the time of the next Congressional election in 2014, the website glitches will be a distant memory. Any Republican running on "Sure, you have much better health insurance than you did a year ago, but weren't you frustrated at the glitchy website a year ago?" is going to get creamed.

Now, in the aftermath of a disastrous shutdown caused by the Tea Partiers, would be the perfect time for that fabled Republican rebrand to begin.

But it doesn't like anyone is in control of the ship, or that there's any master plan at work.

For progressives like me who operated in fear of these people for many years, the notion that they are simply wildly politically incompetent is very weird. Where did all their political acumen go, and how did it disappear so quickly?

Cross-posted from Digby's Hullabaloo

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Comment Preferences

  •  Up their ass along with their heads (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z, TXdem

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 12:41:28 PM PDT

  •  They have an all or nothing game going on. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fumie, TXdem

    They want a big catastrophe. Financial, Natural, Military.
    They got some of what they wanted after 9/11. But there's much more.

    I suspect the agenda of the big financiers is really one of shock doctrine capitalism with a huge agenda.

    And I wonder if this is considered by the Obama administration's planning as well.

  •  Someobody here once said (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fumie, Yoshimi, TXdem, Sixty Something, wdrath

    that Obama's best quality when he spoke is that he made liberalism seem obvious. We can debate whether his policies measure up to his words but it is very hard to deny he has changed the conversation.

    Why do I have the feeling George W. Bush joined the Stonecutters, ate a mess of ribs, and used the Constitution as a napkin?

    by Matt Z on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 12:53:21 PM PDT

  •  hahahaha (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, crankypatriot, Osiris, ferg, TXdem, wdrath

    The Teahadists forced all the Big Strategery Rs out of the room, and are now in charge of the clown car they created.

    Get yer popcorn popped: it's gonna be quite a show.

    Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

    by Youffraita on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 12:53:24 PM PDT

  •  Collision with some feeble remnants (0+ / 0-)

    of objective reality. But they'll patch it up and refill the tank. Suckerdom and fear being renewable resources and all...

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 01:00:06 PM PDT

  •  Purity. (9+ / 0-)

    Democrats get into the same mess when they push for purity. Note that the Pope is also trying to get away from the purity enforced by Pope Benedict.

    This world is full of different people with different opinions. The key is to bring them together, not push them away.

  •  One thought (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    J Edward, Youffraita, TXdem, camlbacker

    In the Bush years, it was amazing to see the unanimity of talking points among public Republicans -- it was laughable in a way, actually, because it was obvious that only a few were even allowed to express the party-authorized message in their own words.  I think the Republicans' crucial misstep was deciding to lend its legitimacy to what we lovingly call the Tea Party, but which is really a rightward metastasis of the Newt Gingrich branch of the party.  When there were just a couple of them in Congress, they were useful gadflies, but now that there are enough of them to be dangerous to all of us, the Republican leadership has tried to walk back from the precipice, and toward sanity.  An anvil might be useful here.

    •  When your politics are all based on fear (4+ / 0-)

      rational thought is not possible. When fear based zealots decide they are on the side of good and the other side is evil there is no room for normal compromise. Our Founders would not recognize todays political climate as American since they were rational thinkers due to the influence of Deism during the Age of Reason.

      Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. John Leland

      by J Edward on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 01:17:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Founders were as ideological as anyone (0+ / 0-)

        Urban versus rural, secularism vs. civic religion, Anglo vs everyone else, "small government" versus "big government", "states rights", laissez-faire versus public investments and protectionism: these debates are as old as the country itself.  While the Founders decried "factionalism", their conception of it was wholly derived from Classical history (like almost every other idea they had).  The Founders thought political parties would be like the Byzantine Blues and Greens - or like green vs. purple Drazi - i.e. shallow, arbitrary, and ending in chaos and violence.

        What the Founders would not have recognized is the New Deal coalition that FDR built.  Not unlike today's conservatives, they would have dismissed such broad support - both in and out of government - as prima facie evidence of either tyranny or mob mentality.  They openly admitted that their system depended on pride and jealousy to keep the various private, public, and institutional interests opposed and therefore "balanced".

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 02:30:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  No earmarks and no R in White House and R media (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Osiris, TXdem

    The republicans in DC were used to being footsoldiers for the White House.  When Bush left, so left the coordination.

    And, there's no way to whip the congressional caucus without earmarks.  

    And, the R media IS able to whip the caucus and it doesn't care if Rs win or lose; it's in the entertainment business, not the win business.

    "One faction of one party in one House of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election."

    by Inland on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 01:07:22 PM PDT

  •  What Do They Need It For? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fat old man, Visceral, wdrath

    We have 3 conservative parties with at least some leadership in each talking winding down the social safety net. We're rolling out the Heritage health plan, we're continuing to expand free trade, there's no talk of repealing Reaganomics.

    The entire political discussion is about taking down the New Deal: how much, and how fast.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 01:15:11 PM PDT

  •  One only needs to read the angry responses to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thereisnospoon, TXdem, wdrath

    this National Review editorial penned by Ramsey Ponnuru and Rich "starbursts" Lowry begging conservatives to use their heads:

    It is a politics of perpetual intra-Republican denunciation. It focuses its fire on other conservatives as much as on liberals. It takes more satisfaction in a complete loss on supposed principle than in a partial victory, let alone in the mere avoidance of worse outcomes. It has only one tactic — raise the stakes, hope to lower the boom —and treats any prudential disagreement with that tactic as a betrayal. Adherents of this brand of conservative politics are investing considerable time, energy, and money in it, locking themselves in unending intra-party battle.
    The Tea Party doesn't care about reason or tactics or logic. It's all about brute force bullying.
  •  The Bible...as they read it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TXdem, highacidity

    Raphael Edward (Ted) Cruz's  father, Raphael Bienvenido Cruz is a minister in one of the Christian Dominion organizations.

    They believe that our democratic government must be overthrown in order to install a theocratic government...their theology, of course.

    http://www.alternet.org/...

  •  they don't need to play politics anymore (0+ / 0-)

    You don't need political acumen if you no longer need to play politics.

    Instead, you can "just say no" and boom, massive indiscriminate sequester spending cuts that everybody said they didn't want ... despite "across the board" cuts being a popular Republican position in the Nineties (on the grounds that they were agenda-free).  "Just say no" and boom, government shutdown that temporarily eliminates huge sections of the federal government ... and even better, the country didn't blow up, so all that government must have been unnecessary after all.  "Just say no" and boom, the debt ceiling is reached which means the government can't borrow any more money so the budget is magically balanced now and forevermore.

    Obstruction and hostage-taking are the new SOP for Republicans.  It doesn't require them to have a majority, it doesn't require their policies to be popular, and it doesn't require them to surrender compromise.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 01:57:00 PM PDT

  •  too early (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib, kkjohnson, wdrath

    For such incompetents, they sure do seem to hang on. I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I've read about the death of the Republican party.
    If the ACA website is still a mess after the promised fix date of the end of November, they'll be beating that drum to the end, and it won't be forgotten by election day because open enrollment will have to be extended, which will screw up all sorts of other aspects of the schedule. Of course they will be having hearings until election day which will remind people of every little problem. If the mandate is then not also delayed, nobody will forget that, and if it is delayed, they will remind everyone that thats all they wanted out of the shutdown and now the president has agreed. (Facts have never been an impediment to their propaganda machine).
    So let's wait and see how things shake out to ponder which party is going to look stupid and incompetent concerning the ACA.

    Immigration is another area that potentially should be killing them, but they still do just fine in states with heavy Hispanic populations like Texas and Az.

    I'll start asking what happened to their political chops when we actually take back the House. Until then, I consider all reports of their demise to be premature.

  •  they used to be brilliant at manipulating (0+ / 0-)

    public opinion...from the deceptiveness of their so-called "compassionate conservativism" (which was neither compassionate nor truly conservative, as it turns out, if you consider thta their beloved so-called "Patriot Act" representated the single largest increase in the size of the federal government in U.S. history). When Republicans said "boo" Democrats flinched, in unison. When Republicans used shameless demagoguery with the bizarre color-coded terrorist threat system to their every political advantage.

    My guess is that those brilliant Republicans are still around, but have been sidelined by the Tea Party brigade, and are just waiting to pick up the pieces if, and when, the Tea Party flames out.

    You're right, however. We should never underestimate Republicans. If nothing else, they will always have access to massive amounts of corrupt, special interest money and a Republican-owned news media that willingly does its bidding.

  •  People caught on to their game. (0+ / 0-)

    And they are still playing the same game.  That's what I think happened.

    After Bush.  After Katrina.  After Schiavo.  After McCain chose Palin, an obviously unqualified to be VP running mate.

    Romney was their best shot and he bombed out.  They really have no one. No one is at the helm of the Republican party.  Teabaggers are filling the vacuum.

    Good questions asked here.  Sorry to say there isn't more participation.

    In the time it took Adam Lanza to reload, eleven children escaped. What if...

    by Sixty Something on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 05:55:19 PM PDT

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