Republicans in Congress are getting a well polished reputation as Nope-A-Dopes. Take two of the most recent examples, Senators Richard Selby R-AB and Jim Bunning R-KY. The former has been holding up over 100 Presidential Appointments while the latter is holding hostage to a 30 day extension to a Financial Payments Bill – so they can get respectively more Pork for Alabama and more Notoriety for Kentucky. However, the creme de la creme is the Republican’s unprecedented use of the filibuster in the Senate – in effect requiring a 60-vote majority in the Senate to get any legislation passed [yes this is radical departure from the traditional use of the filibuster]. So while the House churns out legislation and “is getting things done”, the Senate has ground to a halt since Republican Scott Brown was elected in the Senate to replace the late Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy. So now important legislation on Jobs [ with the notable exception of a much watered down Emergency Jobs Bill passed so Republicans could not get crucified for obstructing everything] , Energy, Financial Reform, Infrastructure Enhancements,
The Nope-A-Dope Strategy depends on 5 key ingredients.
1)Use of Filibuster in the Senate to require not a simple majority but a 60-40 vote for any bill.
Growth of Cloture Votes due to Filibusters
The key to the Republican Nope-A-Dope Obstructionism is as much the threat of using filibuster with the “discipline” of its increased use. In negotiations over bills contents, all the Republicans need to do is threaten filibuster and the Democrats have caved on key portions of Financial Reforms, Jobs, Housing Support, Health Care, Energy Cap and Trade, and other major legislation.
2)Ironclad party voting discipline in the Senate. No crossover or bi-partisan votes on anything. Moderate Republicans Senators have so far towed the line for the past 2-3 years. This is remarkable and must be supported by some as yet unfathomed external force field.
3)A successful campaign of fear and smear on any and all Democratic Legislation. “Death Panels” attacks on Health Care Reform, imposed Energy and duplicitous Deficit Hawkishness after Republicans voted for not paying for the Iraq War, Medicare Enhancements, Tax Cuts for the Wealthy, and thereby creating record deficits in the midst of economic recovery in 2002 to 2006 and overturning the Democratic “pay as you go” tradition started by President Clinton [which was able to produce large surpluses for the latter years of his presidency].
4)Continuing the unholy alliance between the wealthy and knee jerk, one-major-issue voters [think gun controls, immigration, abortion, gay-phobes, Christian religious prayer rights, etc]. This alliance has creaked but held for 20-30 years.
5)Capitalize on the Supreme Court’s Decision to allow for Unlimited Campaign Financing – if the Republican alliance with the wealthy is maintained, the amount of money influence on the elections and legislation will change the nature of the current National Union. Not “one man one vote” but a vote for every dollar and in proportion to one’s wealth.
Nowhere has the the Nope-A-Dope strategy taken more tangible form than in the Republican resistance to Health Care. Republicans know very well that Health Care Reform if passed will become very popular. So they resist it on three counts – because it is very complex and hard to understand, and so therefore easy to attack and smear. Second, it pays to tie up the Senate and have the Senate waste even more time on the bill because the Republicans feel they can win the smear war by portraying the Democrats as imposing their will through Reconciliation and Cloture votes and “do nothings” on everything else. Third it is an issue that public won’t see the benefits of before the 2010 Congressional Elections, and with increased financial support from their beholden corporates due to the Supreme Court
Finally there is Republican “message discipline”. Right now I would say the Republicans have been much much more formidable and disciplined in getting their message of fear and smear out than the Democrats in explaining their policies. Again Republican “message discipline” puts Orwellian True Speak to shame. One can has to be amazed when Elizabeth Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitt Romney, George Will, Mitch McConnell, Scott Brown, Sarah Palin and other Republican luminaries use the exact same words and phrasings on issues as diverse as health care reform, support for Obama’s Afghanistan offensive, or non-support for Financial reforms, etc, etc.
The Downsides to Being Nope-A-Dopes
As one can see the Nope-A-Dope Strategy has some high risk elements. The key is being able to continue to pass the blame for hard times onto the Democrats and the President. President Obama has obliged by choosing health care reform – not Jobs, Financial Reform, nor Energy Sovereignty, nor Climate Change to be his lead issue. He also has chosen to explain his Health Care positions belatedly to a skeptical public and his own party. Then in a monsterous gaffe reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, Obama allowed the margin of the Democratic Party to fritter away valuable time and voting power until a revolting public said” NO, You Dont” with the election of Scott Brown. So it appears the Democrats may continue to oblige the Republicans by setting themselves up as the Party of the Ungoverning Zombies.
As well the politics of fear and smear lose their effectiveness overtime and the challenge of the Internet and open government. Anyone can google or wikipedia “cloture+ filibuster”, “health care reform”, “climate change” and get a)reasonably unbiased accounts of the issues and b)links to a lot of other divergent resources for a broader view of the issues. Only China has a higher number of Internet users than the US .
The second problem is that the Republicans have no ostensible leadership. Is it John McCain, Michael Steele, Governor Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney, or some dark house hiding at Fox News? There is obviously some eminence gris working to impose impressive Republican Discipline on Congressional voting and key issue messaging. But is that enough? The lack of a coalescing Republican leader may require more of an Obama collapse to be truly effective.
The Unholy Alliance may be the weakest point. True, key elements of it have worked in the past under both Presidents Bush, and President Reagan. But the alliance is badly frayed. For example, the Unholy Alliance has deprived the Republicans of the fastest growing voting blocks. They mime “Big Tent” but then slime that notion with a regularity that even the Ungoverning Zombies cannot match. Also the Unholy Alliance is stretched to the breaking point as the the rich and corporations see that a)their alliance has allowed a very small group of Banksters to take everybody to the Madoff Financial Cleaners; b)the obstructionism in Congress has put many US Corporations at a distinct competitive disadvanatge as the Tigers of Asia build up formidable businesses in emerging industries and c)the knee jerkers have not gotten their various Holy Grails [with the notable exception of no gun controls]- Christian Prayers in Schools, Banns on Gays, their kind of Immigration reforms, etc. And with corporates taking the blame for job losses – knee jerkers are less likely to stay aligned with the party. Hence the chaotic Tea Party movement reflects the Republicans own Unholy Alliance.
Finally, Chris Thomas at True/Slant has a good and radical analysis of the effectiveness of Republicans Nope-A-Dope strategy over the long term. He sees it as a zero-sum, non winning long term strategy. Robert Wright, author of NonZeroSum , I suspect would agree. The whole problem is that winning politics is non-zerosum and yet it is currently being played the very opposite way to the marked detriment of the country,