The State of the Republic

A close friend of mine on Facebook linked to this fascinating article in the Washington Post:

Ezra Klein’s Wonk Blog: 14 Reasons Why This Is The Worst Congress Ever

If you want clear, irrefutable evidence that the House Republicans deserve the majority of the blame for stalling the recovery and shaming our most directly elected institution, look no further than the statistics provided in that article.

I mean, they voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

I can understand maybe once or twice… but 33 fucking times. Who the fuck are these people and how did they get into that chamber. They are all fucking school children. All of them.

Here is the nugget that I find particularly intriguing:

3. They’re incredibly polarized.

The best measure of congressional polarization — which is to say, the distance between the two parties — is the DW-Nominate system developed by political scientist Keith Poole. DW-Nominate works by measuring coalitions. It looks to see who votes together and how often. And it works. Its results line up with both common sense and alternative ways of measuring ideology, like the scorecard kept by the American Conservative Union.

So what does it say about this Congress? Well, the 112th Congress is the most polarized since the end of Reconstruction:

Let me emphasize what this graph shows again. *Ahem* MOST POLARIZED CONGRESS SINCE THE RECONSTRUCTION.

If you’re asking yourself, ‘wait, are you telling me that the last time Congress was this polarized was right after we had a civil war?’, you are absolutely right.

So, does the most polarized congress since the end of the Civil War bode well for the future of this great Republic?

I certainly think not. Yet, I don’t think people really grasp what this means. We think we are so damn superior in comparison to the way other countries handle their political disputes. I wrote about this in my previous post. We think we are more “civilized” because of the way our institutions function. That they are somehow superior, because they are not marked by outright violence or threats.

But the real question is, how far are we away from that? We seem to be approaching yet another era of McCarthyism with Congresswoman Bachmann’s totally unsubstantiated attacks upon Huma Abedin’s supposed links to the Muslim Brotherhood, and infiltration of our government.

I think the concern goes deeper than mere paranoia about Islamic infiltration of our government. It is not just a question of whether a few nutjobs in Congress will try to recast Islamists as the new Communists in terms of Enemy No. 1 to the nation.

If we continue along this same path, with Congress becoming more and more polarized and its level of popularity falling to unprecedented lows, how long will it be until the idea of another type of government becomes more popular in the minds of our citizens? How long until certain social issues and class divisions begin to pry open the fissures long thought closed since the Civil War?

Do we really thing we are above another civil conflict? Anyone who says yes is a complete fool. We are a young Republic compared to other countries on this globe that have undergone numerous internal conflicts and transformations. We are above none of them.

Can you even begin to imagine how an internal civil conflict would play out in this day and age?

I don’t even want to start. But my point is simply that we cannot underestimate where our current course may lead us to. When you have one of the major political parties hijacked by special (read: religious) interests, a showdown is inevitable.

Just look at Number 4 in the article:

4. They’ve set back the recovery.

In 2011, congressional Republicans came closer than ever before to breaching the debt ceiling and setting off a global financial crisis. In the end, they pulled back moments before we toppled into the abyss. But by then, they had already done serious damage to the recovery.

Early in the year, the economy seemed to be gathering momentum. In February, it added 220,000 jobs. In March, it added 246,000 jobs. In April, 251,000 jobs. But as markets began to take the Republican threats on the debt ceiling more seriously, the economy sputtered. Between May and August, the nation never added more than 100,000 jobs a month. And then, in September, the month after the debt ceiling was resolved, the economy sped back up and added more than 200,000 jobs.

Hmm… Golly Gee, I wonder if they did that purposely to damage President Obama’s popularity and the ability of his administration to do… anything effectively.

These people are crazy. You want to talk about hardliners? We don’t even need to look at the Islamic Republic of Iran… all we need to do is take one long look in the mirror to understand the kinds of people we have elected to Congress.

I honestly don’t know who is to blame. You and me? When it comes down to it, maybe. After all, Congress is the only directly elected national institution in the country. If the citizens who mobilized to elect these crazies during the last Congressional elections were mostly white evangelical Christians… then… where were we? Where was the rest of the country to balance out their clearly misguided beliefs and disastrous agenda? Nowhere to be seen. I don’t remember what the statistic was for percentage of voter turnout in the last Congressional election, but the reason these crazies were put into office in the first place is because the people who wanted them there in the first place were the majority who voted.

It is almost a vicious cycle from this perspective. The more people feel that Congress is not working, and thus respect it less and less, the more it will come only to be beholden to radicalism and thus represent what is really a minority of the country. Basically, the only people who will continue to mobilize and vote in congressional elections (read: evangelical white Christians) will be those who want to keep Congress in a state of complete polarization.

I haven’t even gotten around to noting how un-representative Congress is compared to how much the country has grown in the last century. There should be far more elected representatives than there currently are. This might solve the problem as well. Open the floodgates. Lets have a Congress of 800 in the House and see what happens to the current level of polarization.

Going back to what I was saying earlier about the vicious cycle and the level of respect and popularity Congress maintains with the citizen body – my gut feeling is that the state of the Republic has come to resemble the last days of the Roman Republic more than anything. I’m not talking about the Fall of the Roman Empire. I’m talking about the last days of the Republic and its dramatic transformation into an Empire.

The last years of the Roman Republic were characterized by much the same sort of behavior that characterizes our Congress today. Blatant attacks on the character of individual members. Complete and utter polarization. A complete lack of respect for how the institution is supposed to function (read: 33 ACA repeals).

At some point, Caesar must have thought the same thing. There was no way he could work with a senate and Consul (Pompey) who presented him with an ultimatum to return to Rome without his army and face trial for his supposed transgressions, the majority of which were probably political inventions.

His only choice was to work outside the system, which he did by crossing the Rubicon with a Roman Army and proclaiming himself dictator.

When people no longer feel bound by the traditional rules and regulations that govern an institution, what happens then?

We cross the Rubicon.

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