Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Few Further Thoughts

I like to imagine the following conversation taking place among the Republican caucus:
Rep A:  OK, what should we do now to cause massive outrage?
Rep B:  How soon are you talking about?
Rep A:  Immediately.  I want the whole country angry at us before we even convene.
Rep B:  We could call a press conference to introduce our legislative program.  That should do it.
Rep A:  Sure, that'll piss off the general public, but hard core libertarians will love it.  I'm looking for something that will offend absolutely everyone, regardless of party or ideology.
Rep C:  I don't see any sort of legislation that everyone would hate.  If we want to offend everybody, we would have to do something really corrupt.
Rep A:  Sure, any individual Congressman can do that, but I am thinking of something that would that would get people outraged at our entire caucus.
Rep C:  But for all of us to be corrupt, we would have to have some sort of criminal conspiracy.  That sort of thing takes too much time and too many moving parts.
Rep D:  Besides, we aren't even in session yet.  We need more time to commit even individual crimes.
Rep E:  We could take action to preemptively prevent investigation into future corrupt acts.
Rep A:  What do you have in mind?
Rep E:  I don't know, something to short circuit the investigation process.  That'll convince people we're corrupt without our actually having to do anything.
Rep A:  Great idea!  What's the best way to do that?
OK, I know that conversation didn't really take place.  But honestly, what was the Republican caucus thinking?  I can think of two possibilities.

One was they assumed that the maneuver was too obscure, too technical, too "insider baseball" for the general public to follow.  They should have known better. They were, after all, the ones who made such effective use of the "Cornhusker Kickback,"  basically a plan to extend special advantages to Nebraska to persuade Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson to vote for it.  Senate Democrats assumed the agreement would be too obscure, too technical, too "insider baseball" for the general public to follow.  They were wrong.  The details may not have been entirely clear, but the basic outline -- that Democrats were offering Nebraska a special privilege as a bribe to the Nebraska Senator -- was easy to understand and reeked of corruption.  So, too, the general public may not understand the difference between the Office on Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee.  But it's easy to understand that the Republican Caucus voted to end independent oversight of Congress and to police their own instead.

The other possibility is that they figured the Trump had gotten a free pass on his outrageously corrupt behavior despite accusing Clinton of being corrupt and promising to "drain the swamp," so they assumed they would get a free pass too.  Again, they should have known better.  Donald Trump can get away with just about anything because he is Donald Trump.  If Donald Trump shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, the Republican base would applaud him for showing those Manhattan elitists what real Americans think of them.  But no one else is Donald Trump, and they can't get away with imitating him.  Just ask Marco Rubio, who tried behaving like Donald Trump and found his prospects tanked.

At least part of the reason Trump gets away with such things is that a lot of his supporters buy into the general view of "government bad, private sector good."  Since Trump has never held an office in government before but has been part of the private sector, he must be good.  Besides, he can claim himself above temptation because he is too rich to buy.  And so when he stocks his cabinet with CEO's and Goldman Sachs types, supporters assume that, as members of the private sector, they must be good and uncorrupt too, and besides, they are also too rich to buy.  Republicans in Congress, on the other hand, have no such free pass.  They are part of the evil entity called "government" and must therefore be corrupt to start out with.  Besides, Congressional Republicans are not in the good graces of their base to begin with because they failed to remove Obama from office, or even to really humiliate him and make him crawl.  Obviously, this must be evidence that they are corrupt.  And deriding members of Congress for their corruption is a longstanding American tradition.

The good news here is that Congressional Republicans are not immune to public pressure.  They can be shamed.  The bad news is the public outrage alone quickly burns itself out.  What is needed for an effective political movement is outrage plus organization.  The Tea Party are a prime example.

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