When a Political Party Goes Off the Deep End

Is writing economic/political commentary like writing detective stories?

In some ways, I think, it is; certainly I have always taken to heart some passages in Raymond Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” especially the passage in which he distinguishes between the inherent importance of themes and the extent to which they are a good subject for writers: “Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest.”

Right now, if inherent importance were all that mattered, I wouldn’t be writing about the effects of sprawl, or the succession at the Federal Reserve, or even, probably, about China’s brick-wall problem. I would instead be writing all the time about the looming chaos in governance in the United States.

In the short run the point is that Republican leaders are about to reap the whirlwind, because they haven’t had the courage to tell their political base that the Affordable Care Act, a k a Obamacare, is here to stay; that budget sequestration is in fact intolerable; and that in general they have at least for now lost the war over the shape of American society. As a result, we’re looking at many drama-filled months, with a high probability of government shutdowns and even debt defaults.

Over the longer run the point is that one of America’s two major political parties has basically gone off the deep end; policy content aside, a sane party doesn’t hold dozens of votes declaring its intention to repeal a law that everyone knows will stay on the books regardless. And since that party continues to hold substantial blocking power, we are looking at a country that’s increasingly ungovernable.

The trouble is that it’s hard to give this issue anything like the amount of coverage it deserves on substantive grounds without repeating oneself. So I do try to mix it up.

But neither you nor I should forget that the madness of the G.O.P. is the central issue of our time.

“That Is Cool”

Greg Sargent, a commentator at The Washington Post, recently pointed out how Senator Marco Rubio is trying to redefine the nature of budget blackmail, declaring that it’s not about Republicans threatening to shut down the government unless President Obama defunds heath reform; it’s about Mr. Obama threatening to shut down the government unless he gets to implement the law.

No, really. According to Mr. Rubio: “I think the real question is: Is Barack Obama willing to shut down the government over Obamacare? In essence, I think we should pay our military. I think we should fund the government. I just don’t think we should fund Obamacare. And what the president is saying is we either fund Obamacare, or we don’t fund anything. And I think that’s an unreasonable position. And that’s the position he’s taken and the Democrats have taken.”

So, where have I heard that before? In Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union address in 1860, in which he spoke of slave interests declaring that they would break up the Union if Northerners voted in a Republican, which would have made secession the fault of … anti-slavery forces: “That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!’ “

Old Abe would have recognized today’s Republicans — and would probably have been saddened that this modern equivalent of the people he fought against bear the name, though none of the spirit, of his party.