The Last Political Bellyache of 2013

In the circular firing squad that is today’s Republican Party, Speaker of the House John Boehner has finally unveiled his outrage at the myopic short-term tactics of fractious far-right interest groups — tactics that have not furthered the party, but ironically ensured that, in some races at least, a republican cannot even be elected.

Here’s why the firing squad is circular–or, if you prefer, how the snake is swallowing itself:

When ultra-rightwing interest groups are unhappy about, well, anything, they apply pressure on Congressional Republicans to vote accordingly. The notion of a conservative scorecard is bandied about, terms such as RINO–Republican in name only–are coined, and nouns can magically become verbs: in the next primary, for instance, any unruly incumbent can be “primaried.” This is the ultimate threat, of course, but the obvious weakness of this premise is that it often backfires. Nobody enjoys an intra-party challenge, especially from a perceived fringe-group candidate. Mainstream conservatives speak the same language, cancel each other out, and the incumbent usually is returned to office. But who knows what language the fringe speaks? They are as the emotion of the moment, however fleeting, and their mother tongue is hyperbole.

And when these people win a primary they are frequently non-starters in their general election. Thus the snake swallows itself.

It’s a bit late in the day for Boehner to be perturbed now, and suddenly, by conservative opposition to the recent bipartisan budget plan jointly proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington. By cowering before this ultra-rightwing upswell, Republicans have allowed a small, if vocal, minority into their ranks–a fringe that has brought us budgetary standstill and, eventually, a shutdown of the federal government. This is precisely why the Republicans now find themselves fairly well-blamed for the many Congressional impasses we have over these few recent years endured. This is precisely why Congress suffers such an historically low approval rating. And this is precisely why Republicans now find themselves in such disarray. But the time to be critical of conservative interest groups, and to inveigh against their pressuring lawmakers, was when this trend was in its infancy.

“To do what we want,” Ryan recently conceded, “we’re going to have to win some elections.” Exactly. Republicans would do themselves a huge favor if they’d quit putting cartoon candidates up for election. It fragments the party, and only serves to marginalize their agenda.

Take a bow, Koch brothers.

Okay. That’s the final political bellyache of the year. Really. I’d like to wish everyone, here and everywhere, the blessings of the Season. And because 2013 has been uncommonly difficult–a year I wouldn’t care to revisit, even in my dotage–I’d like to welcome 2014 by projecting best wishes upon all. May the New Year be eventful, but not harrowing; may it be fruitful, while not too taxing. Literally. May we each rest safely in our families and friends, and may they too find sanctuary with each of us. May good health continue where it is, and may it return where it is wanted. Ditto for good luck. May we all prosper or, failing that, may we remain serene. May good work–and deeds–be rewarded. May opportunity blossom. May humor and romance sweeten the quotidian. May all the difficulties that are sure to come be met with resilience; may they be defeated so expeditiously as is possible, and at the least allowable cost.

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