Yesterday, another conservative commentator tore into John Boehner‘s comically inept and intellectually bankrupt Pledge to America:
I understand that House caucuses are not traditionally hotbeds of policy innovation, and I give the Republican leadership credit for actually making an effort on this front, instead of just coasting toward the midterms. But I also refuse to succumb to the soft bigotry of low expectations! These are serious times, and for a party that may have a share of power again ere long, the Pledge to America is simply not a sufficiently serious response.
Steve Benen reflected on that thusly:
It’s a recurring theme when it comes to Republicans in recent years — there’s just no seriousness to what they do, how they think, or how they behave.
Just a few months ago, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, not exactly a raging leftist, said House GOP leaders “are becoming the Bart Simpsons of Congress, gleeful at smarmy and adolescent tactics and unable and unwilling to get serious.”
Ornstein may have thought of that as a throwaway line, but I’ve considered it rather devastating. He didn’t just say Republicans aren’t serious; he said they can’t get serious and don’t even want to try. That’s not only a powerful critique, it has the added benefit of being true.
Early last year, as the GOP’s descent into nonsense picked up steam, there was some rejoicing on the left, and I understood why. As Republicans took on the collective persona of angry, over-medicated children, it seemed highly unlikely American voters would reward them with power. The GOP was becoming a national embarrassment, progressives assumed, and would need to come to its senses before it could return to the big kids’ table.
But that satisfaction was misplaced. Sure, Republicans abandoned the pretense of credibility, seriousness, reason, and thoughtful policymaking, but they’re nevertheless poised to make significant gains anyway. Voters care less about the GOP’s radical recklessness and more about a struggling national economy.
The result is the worst of all worlds. We’re faced with daunting challenges, a dysfunctional political system, and a party poised to gain power despite being woefully unprepared for the responsibilities of leadership.
The short-term consequences of this myopic voting behavior are depressing enough. (For instance, we are probably about to find out the answers to questions like: “If an economy is already driven into the ground, how much deeper is it possible to drive it into the ground?”)
But what about the likely long-term consequences? This can be nothing but bad news when you think about the kind of people who are likely to want to enter politics in future.
Politics has always attracted many people who are motivated simply by power-lust, but there also used to be a “public service” model of politics. You could be motivated to enter politics also if you were an idealist looking to serve the public interest. The public service model, though, is predicated on the assumption that voters reward competent public service, and punish those who prove to be incompetent in office. It’s predicated on the assumption that if you have a record of pursuing comically incompetent policies that failed miserably, and you run for election promising only to follow the same comically incompetent policies again, the voters will gift-wrap your ass and hand it to you.
So what happens to our politics when those assumptions are found to no longer hold? What happens to our future when all the public service idealists have exited politics, and our legislative chambers are populated almost entirely by power-lust politicians?
And how long will it take before the pendulum starts to swing the other way again?