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Dear Republicans: We Need You at the Table, so Please Stop Blowing Yourselves Up

by Michael Austin, published


Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author: Florian Hirzinger

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Author: Florian Hirzinger

Dear Speaker Boehner,

As someone who usually votes with the other side, I suppose I should be happy that your House caucus is currently playing Russian Roulette with five bullets in the chamber. I mean, there are only so many ways that this shut down fiasco can end, and just about every one of them ends up hurting the Republican Party badly. It is well within the realm of possibility that you could even parlay this fiasco into that Minority Leader position that I have always thought you would be perfect for.

But the strange thing is that I am not happy at all. It’s not that I think that the your side has been anything less than despicable through this whole process. The narrative that seems to have stuck is that a Tea-Party-led Republican caucus is throwing a temper tantrum and trying to hold the economy hostage in order to undue the results of the last election. I think that this is an overstatement, but, let’s face it, your guys haven’t been doing much to refute its essential elements recently.

So I am certainly going to blame the House Republicans for any government shutdown that occurs. The problem is, so is everyone else. Recent polling data is pretty clear about this. Republicans may or may not deserve the brunt of the blame for shutting down the government—that is a value judgment. But you are going to get it—that is a statistical certainty. And when you do, you are going to be virtually powerless in the coming budget battles. And that is a problem, at least for me.

You see, I don’t entirely trust my side to go it alone. You guys are right about us sometimes. We think that government can be a force for good, and I don’t apologize for that, but sometimes we trust government too much. We like spending much more than we like restraint, and we are very willing to raise taxes much more than (we both know) we should in a fragile economy. And this is why we need you at the table, as full partners in the compromise that is going to have to get us out of the fiscal mess we are now in.

I know that a lot of your members think that “compromise” is a dirty word. But it’s how America works. Our Constitution itself is the product of profound compromises between people who did not agree on very much. And, since the days of the Hamiltonians and the Jeffersonians, we have always had one faction in the country that believes in the power of government to do good, and another that warns of the power of government to do harm. All in all, it has been an incredibly productive tension—kind of like John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Any time America has moved forward in any way, it has been because people like me have compromised with people like you. This may be the most important principle that our Founders handed down to us 230 years ago.

But your patent refusal to compromise with anybody now is going to make it practically unnecessary for anybody to have to compromise with you later. Nobody ever wants to compromise. They do it because they do not have the political strength to get everything that they want. You don’t either. You know that very well. And when the House Republicans receive the full brunt of America’s anger at its dysfunctional government, you are going to have far less political strength than you do today.

Oh, you will always be strong in places like Kansas and Oklahoma and the Deep South. There is no doubt that Republicans will remain a strong regional force—something like an American Quebecois that always comes in second in national elections. But you are currently doing a pretty good job of locking yourself out of power at the federal level for at least a generation. And I sincerely believe that this will be a tragedy.

I know it’s hard with the Tea Party and all that. As you have no doubt figured out by now, it was probably not a good thing for America when the party of low taxes and less government (a position that needs to be part of the debate) joined forces with the party of no taxes and no government (which is just plain nuts). But, to be fair, you guys encouraged them when they were an asset, so now you have to deal with them when they are a liability.

So know that I am rooting for you. I really hope that you get out of this alive. We need you to be part of the coming negotiations that are going to define our generation's role in America's history. But you have to do your part. At the very least, you are going to have to take the gun out of your mouth and stop pulling the trigger.


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