This clip of John Boehner carrying water for his ultra-conservative paymasters is but one indication of how incredibly depraved the Republican party has become. The mainstream Republican party. Jonathan Chait's column for NYMag this week is the first I've read that really lays down how destructive they are:
The Republican Party has spent 30 years careering ever more deeply into ideological extremism, but one of the novel developments of the Obama years is its embrace of procedural extremism. The Republican fringe has evolved from being politically shrewd proponents of radical policy changes to a gang of saboteurs who would rather stop government from functioning at all. In this sense, their historical precedents are not so much the Gingrich revolutionaries, or even their tea-party selves of a few years ago; the movement is more like the radical left of the sixties, had it occupied a position of power in Congress. And so the terms we traditionally use to scold bad Congresses—partisanship, obstruction, gridlock—don’t come close to describing this situation. The hard right’s extremism has bent back upon itself, leaving an inscrutable void of paranoia and formless rage and twisting the Republican Party into a band of anarchists.
As Chait notes, there are no limits on the new powers they're crafting for themselves, via guerrilla legislative warfare:
Earlier this month, House Republicans issued those demands. They are staggeringly grandiose. If Obama wants to lift the debt ceiling for the rest of his term, they announced, all he has to do is … agree to sign on to Ryan’s plan to cut and privatize Medicare. If that’s too much for him, Republicans have generously offered the choice of letting Obama accept a package of deep cuts to Medicaid and food stamps in return for a shorter debt-ceiling extension. Of course, if he chooses that route, he’ll have to come back again later and offer up further concessions.
The list is utterly deranged—Obama has sworn he won’t bargain over the debt ceiling again at all, and his entire administration would resign before he could agree to anything remotely like these demands. It’s not clear whether Republicans actually expect the president to succumb to their Bond-villain hostage scheme. But it is significant that Republicans are demanding even more from Obama than they demanded during previous debt-ceiling ransoms and will decry the inevitable failure to achieve it as yet another betrayal.
The billionaires are restless, it seems, and perfectly willing to push the Republican party into the nether regions of extremism. Along with Chait's article, I found this puff piece in Sunday's Washington Post interesting. It is a profile of Craigan Shirley and Diana Banister, the hard-core conservative public relations firm that drives much of the Tea Party astroturf efforts in this country. They make no bones about their antipathy toward mainstream Republicans and how they calculate everything they do toward a Tea Party takeover:
Political strategists of both parties have denounced extremism on the right and laid the blame on more than a few Shirley & Banister clients for the Republican Party’s difficulty connecting with moderates. But Shirley and Banister say they are determined to keep the anti-establishment message churning, especially after two consecutive GOP presidential losses and eight years of George W. Bush’s budget busting and “compassionate conservatism.”
“Everything we do is designed to move numbers, shape opinion, advance legislation, put people on book bestseller lists, stop legislation, whatever,” says Shirley, sitting next to Banister in the firm’s conference room. “It’s all designed to advance some type of philosophical goal.”
Banister has no compunction about splitting the Republican party:
On a recent afternoon, Banister, who says she is in her 40s (she declines to be specific), and Shirley, 56, return to the office from lunch with Howard Fineman, the editorial director of the left-leaning Huffington Post Media Group and a regular commentator on MSNBC. The three are old friends, and they walk into the office sharing whispers and laughs.
“We were just talking about this with Howard over lunch,” Shirley says. “This is as serious a fight within the Republican Party as I’ve seen before. Depending on how you view the world, there are either two political parties in America or there are three.”
Shirley sees the establishment as the “Inner Party” that George Orwell wrote about in “1984.” “Reagan Democrats, conservatives, the Tea Party, populists, et cetera,” he says, are in the “Outer Party.”
Lest you actually believe they are simply DC outsiders, note the reference to Howard Fineman, their lunch buddy. And also this, later on:
The firm has been a Washington institution among conservatives for some 29 years, yet Banister argues that “even though we are inside the Beltway, we aren’t of the Beltway.”
That’s a tough sell.
The office is filled with maroon leather chairs, forest-green carpeting and the requisite D.C. ego wall. There are photos with Reagan, former vice president Dick Cheney and “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews, another MSNBC and Washington personality. Two of Shirley’s four children are working in the office. One answers the phone; his second-oldest is in an upstairs office doing research for Shirley’s coming book on Gingrich’s politics, called “Citizen Newt.”
The shelves are lined with the works of Andrew Breitbart, William F. Buckley, John Bolton, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry — all one-time clients. Shirley & Banister and friendly Alexandria-based rival CRC Public Relations are the firms that very conservative figures use to pitch their messages to the media.
When conservative author Dinesh D’Souza had the idea for a film about what life would be like in 2016 if President Obama were reelected, the co-director and co-writer John Sullivan sat down with Banister to discuss how to promote “2016: Obama’s America.” He had met Shirley at CPAC, which serves as a kind of Woodstock for the political right, and realized they needed the firm to help the documentary go national.
All of this brings me back around to the Chait article, which concludes with an ominous prediction:
In the actual world, the economy is recovering and the deficit, currently projected at half the level Obama inherited, is falling like a rock. Yet messianic Republican suicide threats in the face of an imagined debt crisis have not subsided at all. The swelling grievance within the party base may actually be giving the threats more fervor. The reign of the Republican House has not yet inflicted any deep or permanent disaster on the country, but it looks like it is just a matter of time.
When it happens, look for the fingerprints of Diana Banister and Craigan Shirley to be all over it.