Time for a GOP 'time out'

Time for a GOP 'time out'

Republicans must not be allowed to hold the nation hostage over Obamacare

By Barry Gordon 10/09/2013

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The Republican spin machine has been working at full tilt this past week. All they want is for Obama “to come to the table.” It’s the president, according to this meme, who stands in the way of reopening the government. It’s the president who’s stubborn, willful and refusing to listen to the American people. And it’s the House Republicans who are trying to fund the National Guard and keep those beloved World War II memorials open. In John Boehner’s favorite words, “My goodness!” All we want is an itty-bitty negotiation.   

And, of course, the mainstream media buys into all this. True, they’ve been talking about the extreme Tea Partiers and pointing out the fact that Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act) is settled law and doesn’t have any chance of being reversed. But even so, the media intones the word “negotiation,” as if it’s a magic spell that cures everything. So we have commentators and pundits bemoaning the situation and, yet again, searching for false equivalence between the two sides. “Why won’t the President negotiate?” There has to be a middle ground somewhere. There has to be a way for the Republicans to save face. Just a little “sweetener” to make the medicine go down more smoothly. C’mon guys, there must be something.

There is not. Nor should there be. At some point, Republicans decided to change the rules of the game. They decided that, although they are a minority of the national government — a slim majority in one house of one branch — they could thwart majority rule by using what they euphemistically call “leverage.” In the Senate, where they are a numerical minority, it was the constant use or threat of a filibuster to circumvent the Democratic majority and bury any opportunity of genuine forward movement. In the House, however, they determined that, with their narrow majority, they could exercise the greatest leverage by focusing on the most sensitive pressure points — those times when they needed to vote to keep the government functioning, or needed to increase the debt limit so that the government could pay those bills it had already incurred. It was assumed that Obama would not bear to see either event happen and so would cave into demands that, under any other circumstances, would be nonstarters.

For awhile, it almost seemed to work. The last debt ceiling crisis in 2011 ultimately gave us the sequester and spending limits far below what was needed to perform the necessary (yes, necessary) work of government — things like improving education, rebuilding infrastructure and furthering the growth of scientific research. In the budget currently under discussion, the lower sequester spending limits were maintained in a gesture toward Republicans that some might call … a compromise, maybe?

But then the House Republicans decided to load the pistol once more, this time putting it at the head of the president’s signature legislation — the Affordable Care Act. This time, the media narrative goes, the Republicans overreached. Maybe they could get something else that way —the Keystone Pipeline or tax cuts for millionaires, but not that.

And this is where I believe the narrative misses the point. If I’m reading Obama correctly, they could ask for more toilet paper in the congressional bathrooms and he wouldn’t give in. Because what the Republicans need right now more than anything is a lesson. Put simply: There shall be no more negotiating with a gun to the head of the president, the country, or the global economy.  Not now, not ever. There may not be a lot of rules left in politics, but this one needs to be burned into bronze. The Republicans need to learn the difference between negotiating and hostage-taking. Especially since they’re the first ones to insist that you never negotiate with terrorists, friends of terrorists, or those we think someday might be friends of terrorists.

Like it or not, as I’ve written many times, this country was founded on majority rule. We established specific checks and balances so that the majority couldn’t violate our basic freedoms. Political blackmail was not one of them. We must return to the simple principle that the elected majority controls the agenda. If that agenda does not please the people, well, that’s what elections are for. John Boehner needs to understand that he is not simply the head of the Republican majority — he is the Speaker of the whole House and should act like it.

The Republicans need to learn how to lose. Everyone does. And the media needs to let them lose. Sometimes there is no negotiation, no magical middle. They have to stop acting as if one side or the other winning is somehow a failure in the process. When the two sides can legitimately come together and work things out, I’m all for it. But when someone’s holding a loaded gun — and, make no mistake, that’s what the Republicans have been doing — my answer is “You want to talk? First put down the gun.”  

In parenting, we understand that actions have consequences and that children need to understand what those consequences are in plain terms. That holds no less true for the grownups. If my granddaughter acts up, she gets a “time out.” Not a negotiation. That’s what the Republicans need right about now.  

Barry Gordon is an adjunct professor at Cal State LA.

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