When it comes to governing, the Bush-Era Republican Party is singularly unfit.
I find great irony in the news of the past couple of days that "fiscal conservatives" in the Republican party are wringing their hands over the "impact on the growing deficit" from the multi-billion dollar recovery package proposed by president Bush for post-Katrina recovery. We heard none of this deficit outcry when the White House was on track to making permanent the multi-trillion dollar tax cut pushed through congress a couple of years ago.
The problem for the Anti-Government Republicans, of course, is that Katrina has reminded Washington that government exists for something other than funding wars and paying for lobbyists. The unmasking of poverty in America for all the world to see is diplomatically embarrassing; the underfunding of domestic infrastructure needs that led to disaster is politically damaging . Now Washington is trying to play catch-up. But the Republican Party may not have the capacity to govern. This may become the Republican Party's version of the 1970s McGovernites internal conflict with Blue-Collar Democrats.
In a column last year, Washington Post Columnist Sebastian Mallaby examined this problem for the Republican Party (Monday, June 14, 2004; Page A17)
As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue in their smart new book, "The Right Nation," for every Cato Institute libertarian, the GOP harbors a moralist who wants government to regulate your private life; for every anti-tax crusader, there is a neocon who believes that government should strive to instill such virtues as patriotism, educational discipline and marital fidelity. And that's before you start counting the foreign policy hawks, who want more military spending, or the endless crony capitalists, who want government to hand out favors to their business buddies.
The policy wonks who were once employed by the government and informed congress of the administrative perspective have now been replaced by private lobbyists, think tanks and law firms--mostly filled with Republican cronies. Again, Sebastian Mallaby:
"Because it has gained control of Congress, its cronyism has blossomed; far from disdaining the lobbyists who seek to expand pork-barrel spending, the congressional Republican leadership has created its odious "K Street Project" to ensure that lobbyists hire plenty of Republicans. The Republicans, in turn, hire plenty of lobbyists. The head of the Republican National Committee is Ed Gillespie, who's made a fortune peddling influence. His predecessor is Marc Racicot, who proposed initially to work as a lobbyist even while holding the top party job..."
The unfitness of the Bush-era Republican Party to govern is based in it's fundamental hatred and distrust of government. How can a political establishment with a High Priest like Grover Norquist, anti-tax crusader and professional government-hater, possibly govern?
In a May 25, 2001 interview, Grover Norquist told National Public Radio's Mara Liasson, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
Over at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Robert Farely points out the fundamental contradiction in Republican governance:
"The Republicans have managed a nifty trick over the last twenty-five years. They have worked ceaselessly to make government less effective, while at the same time deriving political benefit from inadequate government... That said, this is a point Democrats ought to make more forcefully: there's no reason for a party that doesn't trust government to be responsible for it. And it's their job to point out that "don't trust government" now means "don't trust the Republican Party".
Gary Kamiya, writing in Salon, brilliantly captured this dynamic of the Anti-Government Big Government of the Republicans back in 1999:
"Triangulating Democrats notwithstanding, the real home of anti-governmentalism remains the GOP -- and the more right-wing the Republican, the more extreme the rhetoric. GOP front-runner George W. Bush must play to the middle, but the True Believers who run Congress -- Dick Armey, Trent Lott, Tom DeLay -- are under no such constraints. These worthies have scarcely pulled their legs out of their pajamas before they've given the corrupt, bureaucratic, meddling elites in Washington their first whacking of the day. Since the deliverers of these speeches are themselves career politicians whose own snouts have snuffled deeply in the loamy D.C. soil, this spectacle is oddly surreal -- somewhat like the René Magritte painting of a pipe that declares, "This is not a pipe."
All of this reminds me of a comment I heard back in Alaska, a state that has been victimized by a particularly virulent form of Republican anti-governmental neanderthalism:
"Antigovernment politicians run for office claiming that government doesn't work, then they get elected and, sure enough, they prove themselves right!"
What has been true in Alaska for decades is proving true in America today.