The False Unity of Opposition

I had a thought on election night back in November, as we slowly crawled to the fact of President Trump. I wished I’d blogged it back then, but I’ll just have to ask you to trust me about this.

The thought, as I sat there and contemplated Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House, was this – can the “party of no” go from playing opposition to actually governing? Recent events suggest they may not.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), Republicans have pledged to repeal it. It was a promise Trump embraced enthusiastically during the campaign. If there was one clear thing Americans could expect a united GOP power structure to do, it was to gut Obamacare. Last Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew the proposed “repeal and replace” bill, rather than watch it go down in flames on the House floor. Democrats only had to smirk from the sidelines.

What the hell happened? How could a party so unified in the past about a goal fall apart so quickly?

Because being the opposition helps creates a false sense of unity among those doing the opposing. Think about it – so long as the only thing a group has to do is say “no” to some outsider they don’t have to deal with their own internal divisions.

Make no mistake – during the Obama years, the GOP was the opposition. While they controlled both the House and Senate (for varying lengths of time), it wasn’t enough to override a veto, if it came to that. Measures with bipartisan support were possible (if vanishingly rare), but true GOP proposals were dead on arrival. Hence those 54 votes to repeals of the ACA, none of which actually accomplished anything (aside from being red meat for fund raising).

That’s not quite true – it papered over the differences in the party itself. After all, when the default position is anti-whatever the other party wants, it’s easy to stick together. It doesn’t matter why you take that position, only that you do. That one group of reps are coming from a deeply ideological direction and a second from a  more moderate one is irrelevant so long as they both arrive at the same result.

There’s an old saying that pure democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner. While we can assume there’s at least two votes not to eat the wolves, we might not assume there’s the same support for eating the sheep. After all, one of the wolves could be a vegetarian.

So now, I suppose, the question is – how long before the GOP wolves finally figure out how to eat the sheep.



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