May 13, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
A political party can’t accomplish anything when it’s 100 percent focused on stopping everything
So the Republicans lie.
I don’t pay a lot of attention to policy. I don’t care enough about the particular details to say with any confidence which one is better and which one is worse. I do care about policy outcomes. So I’d take the so-called public option. I’d take Medicare for All, too. Yes, one is a small step. The other is a big step. Both, however, arrive at the same place eventually, which is universal health care. Either way, I know one party is going to lead us in that direction generally while the other is going to lead us nowhere in a hurry.
In this way, I’d guess I’m fairly representative in how most people regard the parties. There are outcomes you want. So you side with the party most likely to realize them. Conversely, there are outcomes you do not want. So you side with the party most likely to oppose them. But what happens when one of the parties stops caring about policy? What happens when achieving a meaningful objective, however small it might be, even if it’s just opposing the other party’s policies, no longer matters to the party? Where does that leave normal people who want the party to accomplish something concrete?
Dozens of House Republicans, including Elise Stefanik, who is poised to assume Liz Cheney’s chairwomanship, have in one way or another allowed constituents to believe they had something to do with a hugely popular law they voted to kill.
I said yesterday that ousting Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney from the House Republican leadership meant the Republican Party is now officially anti-democracy. I forget to say it’s officially anti-policy, too. Cheney voted for the former president’s legislative agenda nearly all the time. Her rival, New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, did not. Yet it’s the latter who’s getting elevated to the position of House GOP conference chairwoman while the former is getting knocked down. Stefanik has embraced Donald Trump’s Big Lie—that he’s the legitimate president. Cheney, however, rejects that. It doesn’t matter that Stefanik agreed with Trump less while Cheney with Trump more. The GOP is now post-truth. It’s now post-policy, too.
Among the very few things I believe in categorically, there is this: Most Americans most of the time have something else to do than pay attention to politics. (They will find something else to do.) From that, I extrapolate, not unreasonably, that most people are not as invested in political conflict as the conventional wisdom would have it. Sure, voters want their representatives to fight for their interests, etc. But they also want them to get things done, especially amid long periods of mass death such as ours.
National crises demand national action. So it’s one thing for the Republicans to oppose the other side’s policy proposals, but quite another for the Republicans to oppose the other side’s proposals on account of the other side is the one proposing them. They have convinced GOP constituents they can focus 100 percent on stopping the Biden administration, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, while at the same time delivering the goods back home. They have put themselves in jam with no honest way out. And because there is no honest way out, the Republicans must keep lying.
Nearly all the Republicans voted for relief-stimulus programs proposed by the former president while he was in office. They could rightly take credit for them. Not one of the Republicans in the entire United States Congress voted for similar programs in the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March. But that has not stopped many from taking credit for them. The AP reported last week dozens of House Republicans, including Elise Stefanik, who is poised to assume Liz Cheney’s chairwomanship, have in one way or another allowed voters to believe they had something to do with a hugely popular law they came close to killing. Post-truth has led to post-policy, which has led back to post-truth. Among Republicans, there is no there there, anymore. They are deathly afraid of constituents finding out. So they lie.
Like many things, this boils down to opposing interpretations of America. For the Democrats, it’s a real place with real people in it who must find ways of getting along tolerably enough for everyone’s sake in the most useful ways possible. If we don’t, we’re doomed. As Joe Biden said, after winning the election, “America is a covenant.” It’s the common ground shared between and among individuals and communities, the bonds that tie our fates together in the form of a union we must try perfecting more.
For the Republicans, however, the covenant isn’t between and among individuals and communities. It’s between God and God’s chosen. The covenant isn’t an abstract set of republican virtues. It’s literal. It’s the US Constitution. That the Republicans find themselves jammed—that nonstop lying is how they prevent supporters from figuring out they can’t accomplish anything—well, that’s what happens when a literalist interpretation rams into a crisis as bad as the covid pandemic has been. Something’s got to give. First, it was truth. Then, it was policy. What’s next remains to be seen.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.