Because any article that has “pantomime” in its title needs an appropriate overture, a bit of Monty Python to start things off:
And really, that’s what the GOP has devolved to: a Monty Python skit, but not as humorous, and with much more dire consequences for the country.
Let’s take a short trip down memory lane and dissect the GOP’s behavior since 2009.
When in the minority for President Obama’s first two years in office, it refused to conduct any good faith negotiations with either Obama or the Democrats, highlighted most memorably by then-Minority Leader John Boehner’s oh so witty riff on Obama’s signature line: “No we can’t!” From the auto bailout to the stimulus to the Affordable Care Act (and more on that later), Republicans marched in lockstep to thwart everything put forth by Obama, all in an effort to fulfill its one mission, that of making Obama a one term President.
They did this by going into contortions which would make Daniel Browning Smith jealous. Saving the world from a second Great Depression by stimulus and a Detroit bailout became a socialist plot to nationalize every major sector of the economy. (Never mind that the President and Democrats resisted the calls from feckless Left to do just that with the banking industry.) And a healthcare reform bill which cribbed extensively from previous Republican proposals—while improving on them drastically—suddenly became socialized medicine, which would interfere with the doctor / patient relationship and lead to grandma being turned into Soylent Green. When it was brought up that the Democratic proposal mirrored the Massachusetts health care plan implemented by that famous Communist Mitt Romney, the roar of “death panels” just became louder.
The pantomime kicked into high gear with the birth of the Tea Party. That was quite the trick for the country’s first black President to gin up a “mass movement” made up mostly of older white folks and a few token minorities—”See, we’re not racists! Our coloreds hate Obama too!”—whose only purpose was to “take back America”. This coalesced with the nascent birther movement, so incensed that someone who didn’t look like them was somehow sitting in the White House that he must have gotten there by means foul and dangerous. Both the Tea Baggers (and extra points for Tea Party leaders assuming the mantle “tea bagger” without knowing of its pop culture meaning) and birthers engaged in exquisitely fringe theatrics, which would have been vastly entertaining if it had, in fact, been relegated to the fringe. But the 24/7 news media needs a constant stream of raw material, so movements which should have been laughed out of the public sphere became mainstream fodder, treated as serious political actors. When Donald Trump and Joe Arpaio enmeshed themselves with both Tea Baggers and birthers, the pantomime reached its ridiculous crescendo.
Of course, the theater became less amusing when it propelled Republicans to take back the House in 2010. Suddenly politics became a death struggle. Obama tried to accommodate the GOP majority in the House, all in an effort to keep the country from falling apart. The problem was that the new Tea Party Republicans didn’t care if the country fell apart, because as they saw it it was no longer “their” country. The Obama Era had to be obliterated before they’d agree to rebuild; thus, the obstruction of Obama’s first two years became a governing philosophy. John Boehner and Eric Cantor had no interest in governing, but in waging political war to weaken Obama enough so that the GOP could take the White House in 2012.
If Hilary Clinton had been President, it might have worked; the Clinton name has a certain meaning in American political discourse; and Mrs. Clinton, for all her good attributes, is not one to bend easily. But in Barack Obama they faced an opponent who expertly threw back everything thrown at him, and still managed to accomplish many of his goals in the face of Republican intransigence. And when the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare as fully constitutional, suddenly Republicans were faced with the task of explaining why they wanted to repeal a piece of legislation which allowed kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until they were 26, why seniors wouldn’t get the prescription doughnut hole closed, and why insurance companies should be allowed to spend more and more premiums on non-health related expenses. Mitt Romney tried to make that case, and lost decisively.
The past nine months have proven that the GOP learned nothing from 2012. And with Senator Ted Cruz conducting his non-filibuster, and the House passing a spending bill defunding Obamacare which it knows won’t become law, the pantomime is all that’s left. GOP leaders want to get off the stage, and try to keep their majority in next year’s elections, but the poor players of the Tea Party won’t let them. The true believers are like the Townswomen’s Guild of Sheffield, putting on a piece of theater which is all chaos and silliness, and thinking that it’s a serious dissection of the state of the nation. They were elected on the basis of their fervor, and fervor is all they have. And the GOP leadership rode that fervor to electoral success; but now that it might backfire on them in 2014, it has no way to curb it. John Boehner is like the coach who has lost the locker room; the team isn’t listening to him, and he has to placate it in order to keep his job.
In 2014 a choice faces the nation: re-elect a faction which thinks theatrics is the sole tool of government; or let the adults take back the House and maintain the Senate, and maybe get a few things done. The cable news outlets would prefer the former; I think most Americans are ready for the latter.