October 8, 2013

There’s been a lot of focus on members of the “Tea Party,” a small radical rump minority who have hijacked not only the Republican Party but now the entire country. There’s also been a lot of speculation about why this has happened; how could Republicans be so incredibly stupid and/or suicidal? How could they be so cavalier as to be willing to cripple the entire country, perhaps even irrevocably, to fight on one single issue, particularly one they can’t win? It’s a serious no-brainer: Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, President Obama signed it into law, and the Supreme Court upheld it as constitutional. There’s nothing left to “negotiate,” it’s a done deal. So why can’t Republicans just shrug and move on to the next fight? Surely there must be plenty more liberal proposals to incessantly argue about and obstruct?

One theory is that ObamaCare is indeed very, very dangerous – to Republicans. Once the working class, the largest demographic that Republicans depend upon for their continuing survival, realize just how much ObamaCare benefits them and their families, they are going to be loathe to give up this new-found security such health care provides – and vote against anyone, and anything, that intends to take it away from them. They already have; to many people’s surprise, Obama turned out to be not only a two-term President, but by a very healthy margin indeed, excuse the pun.

But that doesn’t explain a baffling mathematical anomaly – the Tea Party fanatics are not representative of the Republican Party as a whole, not even close. Probably fewer than 40 out of the 232 Republicans in the House of Representatives, and half a dozen in the Senate, are insane pro-shutdown über-conservatives; the rest are relatively rational moderates... for Republicans. Furthermore, it’s a not-very-well-kept secret that there are enough votes together between Democrats and traditional Republicans to end the shut-down immediately. The vast majority of the moderates did not want this shutdown, and know that it is irresponsible, reprehensible and – if it drags on too long – will be as suicidal as it was the last time Republicans tried it seventeen years ago and lost in epic numbers in the following elections. Yet the explanation for such irrational behaviour is again not about ObamaCare at all, but about retaining power. The first part of understanding the puzzle is gerrymandering.

Historically (and this isn’t one of those ‘both sides do it’ moments, just a fact), given the opportunity all politicians are happy enough to redraw electoral maps to give themselves and their party as much chance as possible of preserving political territories, and increase the likelihood of perpetual re-election. And it works; despite approval polls for members of Congress at all-time abysmal lows, 90% of incumbents are re-elected. Over and over again. Of 199 Democrats in the House of Representatives, 51% won re-election with 67 percent of the vote or more. Out of 234 Republicans, nearly 30% won with similar margins. 38 percent of the entire house has virtually no anxiety over losing an election, and in the 2012 election, only 14 percent of the House won with 54 percent of the vote or less, a third of those elected with 67 percent or more.

Republicans, however, have taken gerrymandering to an extreme never seen before in American political history, which has now created an unintentional problem for them. They don’t have to fear Democrats contesting their seats – they have to worry about Tea Party extremists within their own party challenging them in a general election, particularly in primary elections with low voter turn-outs which disproportionally tend to attract fringe voters. In the 2010 and 2012 elections, moderate Republicans challenged by Tea Party radicals nearly all lost. That gerrymandered “safe seat” indeed stayed Republican, but a deeply altered one. If a moderate Republican votes with his conscience to end the shutdown, the Tea Party, and their very deep-pocketed puppetmasters who fund them, can plaster attack ads on every Fox affiliate television station portraying him as sympathetic to Obama, complicit with Democrats and the left, a traitor to the cause, un-patriotic, un-Christian, and just plain not “conservative” enough. If incumbents want to hang on to their jobs, they are now forced into the ludicrous bind of having to out-crazy the crazies.

Which is why Speaker John Boehner doesn’t dare bring a vote to end the government shut-down to the floor of the House. If he does, he forces the majority of his own party into a recorded vote to either vote in the national interest – and risk losing their seats to the lunatics in the Tea Party – or vote against their conscience and interests of the American people and make a horrible situation even worse. And possibly lose their seats to Democrats next election.

If Boehner is very lucky, Democrats may save his sorry ass and go through with a plan to use a previously existing bill funding the government to move a discharge petition, forcing a vote on reopening the government. Two dozen Republican House Representatives are already known to be prepared to vote for a clean Continuing Resolution (CR), more than enough for the necessary 218 signatures needed, untied to negotiations over ObamaCare and, therefore, less vulnerable to attack by more radical factions within the party.

Tea-Party pin-up and failed presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is right when she said, “This is historic, and it’s a historic shift that’s about to happen, and if we’re going to fight we need to fight now.” Yet not in the way she imagines it. Because there does exist another “extremist” faction of the Republican Party fighting for a historic shift, and its best representative so far has been a new kid on the block, Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA).

By no means do I see Scott Rigell as a “moderate” in the normal, non-Republican sense of the word, but by rightwing standards he’s one of the least deplorable. He’s anti-choice, co-sponsoring bills to prohibit coverage for abortions under the new ACA, and against federal funds for Planned Parenthood. He’s opposed to gay marriage, has trouble understanding that whole climate change destroying the earth thing, and supported Paul Ryan’s budget proposal which would privatize Social Security and Medicare, while abolishing corporate income tax and estate tax for the very wealthiest Americans.

Yet, that said, he opposed deploying ground troops to Libya, supported a bipartisan congressional resolution urging the United Nations to create a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal, was one of only two Republicans to vote against the motion to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress over the ATF gun-walking scandal. He renounced a pledge to never raise taxes that is nearly an oath required in blood within the Republican Party, and had already been giving back 15% of his salary when Warren Buffett challenged Republicans by offering to match any donations to the Treasury. He’s been highly critical of his own party, and in particular House majority leader Eric Cantor, for being lazy; condemning Congress’s slack congressional work schedule as obstructing one of its most basic responsibilities, passing the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the government every year. He’s co-founded the “Fix Congress Now” caucus with Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin (R-Wis), with goals to tackle term limits to 12 years for Congressmen (promising to serve no more than four terms in office himself), advocates pension reform to end careerism, and reforming the protracted budget process, and – amazingly – putting an end to gerrymandering, which he believes to be the principle cause of gridlock in Washington.

He’s also the only Republican brave enough to have voted against the funding measure Republicans tried to ram through the Senate after attaching an "everything except the Affordable Care Act" clause to it. He's been openly appalled by the resulting Republican shutdown, and has been outspoken about the ending the shutdown ever since. He’s... dare I say it... even rather likeable, and has proven to have a decent sense of humour, appearing on The Daily Show being “interviewed” by Samantha Bee.

In a recent interview with Neil Cavuto, Rigell also indicated he was far from being a lone renegade within the Republican Party. To the question of how many others might be similarly inclined to vote to end the shutdown, Rigell said, “Well, there's at least nine of us that I know for sure. I'm certain that there are many others. How many, I don't know. But there's certainly more than ones who have already put out the press releases. I'm not actively going out and trying to find them, but they will come out on their own. Look, we're in a terrible situation here in Congress. We have these gerrymandered districts to where Congress really doesn't look like America.”

He’s also been astute enough to point out that the current situation is less Republicans holding a gun to anyone’s head as it is a President who is “not going to negotiate with people with bombs strapped to their chest.”

This is a Republican I can respect, even if I don’t necessarily agree with a good many of his positions, particularly when it comes to social issues and health care. This is the kind of Republican the GOP desperately needs, if it’s going to survive as a genuine political party and not a refuge for the craziest, most ludicrous nutjobs America has ever seen. But most importantly this is the sort of minority “radical” Republican that America is in dire need of; honest, honourable, and committed to the greater good of the country. There must be more like him... if only the Tea Party and Speaker Boehner could release their death grip on the throat of the Republican Party.

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