The “room” in the title is a metaphor for American politics. I don’t intend to try to trick anyone into believing that there’s actually a large African mammal trampling my DVDs, or anything. And sure, that sounds like it’s obvious, but I still feel the need to clarify the point because the metaphorical elephant (which is very real, as opposed to the real elephant, which is actually imaginary) of American politics is that one of the two political parties controlling our nation is, well…crazy. Batshit crazy. Pants-crapping crazy. Crazy enough to believe that there’s a literal elephant in my room, and that it was put there by the Federal government crazy. Not even “crazy” in the usual, everyday sense, but in the clinical diagnosis sense. The Republicans have gone insane, and we can’t possibly fix our country until we start talking, on a national level, about the elephant in the room.
Now there are some who might not believe me. We should start with the evidence. And believe me, there are any number of juicy pieces of evidence to choose from, but I think we can start with the simplest one–the Republicans in Congress are currently claiming that we can’t possibly devote $12 billion to extending unemployment benefits, because we don’t have the money in the budget to pay for it and we have to balance the budget, while simultaneously claiming that we can’t possibly let the Bush tax cuts expire, because it’s worth going deeper into debt to give millionaires and billionaires a $700 billion tax break. These are not positions that can be held at the same time by any kind of rational human being.
And the more the Republicans try to insist that they are, the clearer the evidence of their insanity gets, because the rationales they cite are wrong. Demonstrably, provably wrong–tax breaks to millionaires don’t promote job growth (if they did, would we have lost 8 million jobs since the tax breaks were enacted?) and they don’t stimulate the economy (unemployment benefits do, actually, because the poor have to spend every dime they get and can’t save anything, while the rich can just toss that money on the pile.) These people are trying to argue a policy that’s incoherent by citing rationales that are incoherent. They refuse to acknowledge reality when reality conflicts with their belief system, and if that isn’t a textbook definition of insanity, it’s close enough for everyday life.
When did it happen? I’d like to say it was with Reagan. He’s certainly the patron saint of the current Republican party, but on looking back, Reagan tempered his policies with some actual common sense. Yes, he did lower taxes, raise spending, and try to deficit-finance America to greatness…but he did seem to have some understanding of the fact that it couldn’t be sustained indefinitely, and he was even willing to raise taxes when he had no other alternatives. Under the current Republican ideology, this makes him a RINO. (Eisenhower, who had a top tax rate of 90%, who pulled us out of Korea and refused to get us into Vietnam, and who created the Federal Interstate Highway System, would be considered a Communist.) As much as I’d like to believe that it began with the man who said, “The government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem,” it really began with the people who divorced that quote from all context and turned it into a mantra.
No, I’d date the Republican Party’s descent into insanity to 1992, and the election of Clinton. First, losing a national election had some pretty bad effects on the Republican psyche to begin with; they’d been looking forward to an unbroken run of Republican hegemony stretching out into the 21st century, and to be beaten by some lecherous hillbilly from Arkansas and a crazy billionaire from Texas (remember, this was 1992, before all the crazy billionaires became Republican role models) was a lot to take. At the same time, this election made them the minority party, and there’s some truth to the notion that you can be a lot crazier in politics if you don’t actually have the responsibility to implement your ideas.
Then, of course, they did, as 1994 swept the Republicans into power in Congress. And that’s where the real crazy started. Because the Republicans had had, at that point, two years to come up with their plans to save the nation. Two bitter, angry years where their discussions fermented in the toxic atmosphere of talk radio and frustration over the ’92 losses, and came out as a mix of “government is the problem” and “whatever they’re for, we’re against” and “we just have too many not-True Americans in this country these days!” And then they had to go to Congress and try to implement those ill-considered schemes. And of course, they didn’t work. Because they were, well…a little bit crazy.
But there’s this curious phenomenon to human behavior called “cognitive dissonance”. We don’t like to be wrong. We hate it, in fact. The more deeply held a belief, the more we’ll cling to it in spite of the evidence, simply because we’ve tied our whole ego to the idea and we’re terrified of what it says about us that we were suckered that thoroughly. And nobody ties their ego to an ideology like a politician. The more obvious it became that the Republican philosophy of “less government, more free-market solutions” was a recipe for disaster, the harder they pushed it and the less dissent they allowed from it within their own party. Bush Jr’s eight years of power, where he had the Oval Office, the Supreme Court, the House, the Senate, and the goodwill of the American people on his side, and wound up losing 8 million jobs, transforming a budget surplus into the largest deficit in the history of the human race, and allowing the first attack on US soil since the War of 1812, should really have been the stake in the heart of the old Republican philosophy–a transformative event. Instead, they’ve doubled down on doing everything just like Bush did it. The flying saucers didn’t come this year, but they’ll certainly show up next year.
At this point, it’s impossible to govern in tandem with the Republicans, because it’s impossible to have a rational discussion when only one side is rational. If I say that we need to rebuild our nation’s highway system, and you say that we need to tax the Tooth Fairy to do that because the bitch is obviously loaded if she can afford to give away all those quarters, we’re clearly not going to get anywhere. Bipartisan compromise is impossible, because it’s not like we can agree to only get half our funding from the Tooth Fairy’s stash. What is needed, in essence, is to vote the Republicans out of power, and let them consume themselves in the way all cult movements eventually do: Bickering, in-fighting, perpetual purity purges, and a slow, sad awakening to the failure of a philosophy they’ve tied themselves to. (There are sometimes mass suicides involved, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen.) Only when we see the Republicans admitting that they’ve been completely wrong about everything they’ve said in the last three decades can we hope to get politics on a saner track in America. Until then, the Republican party just can’t be trusted to govern. In fact, I wouldn’t trust them with anything more complicated than a pet taxi and a piece of string.