Since 2008, the GOP has engaged in a concerted effort to destabilize the Government of the US for short-term political gains. But this is not a new strategy, nor will it ultimately be successful. In the meantime, the “Do-Nothing Congress” will continue to do nothing except stage political theater for the ignorant population, who literally only knows what they hear and see on their chosen ideologically-driven infotainment source, and for political junkies who would laugh if they didn’t know it was so pathetic.
A couple days out from the 2014 midterm elections, I would like to take a few moments to evaluate a trend in American politics since January 2009. This article is not intended to be blatantly partisan, though I am sure it will come off that way- My aim is to describe a political phenomenon which is largely the strategy of one political Party in the United States, and has been since at least the beginning of the first Obama administration. This strategy has served not only to cripple the government in a way which will take several years to heal, and then only under the best faith between the two governing Parties (if that is even possible) but has also critically undermined the population’s faith in the US Government.
This strategic policy is known as Auto-Destabilization, and its practitioners in the US are known as the Republican Party. But it is important to note: Opposition to Obama is merely the most visible sign of the GOP’s long-term strategy. The ultimate goal of the GOP, for the last forty years, has been to render the US government inert to the point that it collapses. And yet, the immediate target of their efforts, the practical (if not actual) unseating of the US President, has remained elusive. Long-term damage is done, but ultimately, it might cost the GOP far more than they anticipate. It might cost them the existence of their Party.
What is Destabilization?
I have been able to identify several characteristics of the political tactic known as destabilization. First, destabilization aims at undermining and delegitimizing a target government, for the purpose of causing it to become so weak and unstable that its political opponents are able to easily knock it over. This is accomplished by deliberately, radically and instrumentally changing the balance of power between the target and its political opponents. Second, most countries who aim at dominance over their neighbors practice this tactic when they think it has become impossible for them to achieve their own goals in some other, more political acceptable way- it happens when a government has washed its hands of diplomatic nicety and international customs, because “playing nice” isn’t getting them what they want from the other side.
Destabilization, at the international level is the result of a severe crisis of interest between two countries. The party which prefers things to remain as they are notices changes in the other Party which it finds unacceptable. The more provocation that occurs between the two sides, the more convinced that Party A becomes that it is no longer possible to pressure Party B to change its “offensive” behavior through normally acceptable means. The precipitating crisis is a conflict of three different types of interest: economic, ideological and security interests must all conflict before destabilization becomes politically acceptable to the status quo actor (the one who seeks to resist alteration in the relationship between the two Parties.)
Usually, destabilization happens between countries on the international level. But occasionally, it happens within a country. When it happens within a country, where one element of the government targets another for destabilization, it is called “auto-destabilization” or destabilization of one’s own government. In the US, auto-destabilization had been going on several months before Barack Obama was elected in 2008. The status quo actor in this example is the GOP, who felt that they finally had everything arranged the way they wanted it in 2008. And so, the rise of Barack Obama after eight years of lockstep GOP support for the President’s policies (with the notable exception of Bush’s attempts to reform immigration and Bush’s Medicare reform) as well as a compliant and complicit Democratic Party for much of the time represented a major crisis for the GOP. When it became clear that Obama would likely upset that status quo, auto-destabilization began.
Early attempts to delegitimize Obama began before Obama was even elected. Efforts began in the early part of the primaries to de-legitimize Obama as a possible candidate for President. The first inklings of the auto-destabilization strategy came from Fox News. Their anchors had been referring to Obama as Barack Hussein Obama, or simply BHO, since at least January of 2008 though they didn’t usually (or ever) refer to his opponent as “John Sidney McCain,” a fact pointed out by Fox’s Alan Colmes a month later.
Later, the GOP and its operatives on Right-wing radio stoked gender tension and some, like Rush Limbaugh, actually advocated a tactic he glibly referred to as “Operation Chaos.” His millions of loyal dittoheads were told to go enter Democratic Party primaries and support Hillary Clinton for the purpose of bloodying Obama after it became clear that he would be the front runner. To be sure, Limbaugh did not intend Clinton to make it to the White House: His goal was to weaken Obama. It is interesting to note, and seldom reported, that later, Limbaugh switched to telling his listeners to go support Obama in the primary, because he believed that Obama was now the weakest candidate, and supporting him in the primaries would give McCain an easy win. When Obama actually won in the fall, it was almost a shock to Republican voters, who, listening to their echo-chamber as they frequently do, assumed that McCain was going to walk away with the election, especially with Palin on the ticket. In fact, a majority of Republicans were convinced that Obama had somehow stolen the election (probably through the now discredited organization named ACORN), despite his clear majority in the popular and Electoral College tallies.
The Birther Movement rose to challenge Obama’s citizenship, and was a clear statement of the GOP’s efforts to make Obama into an unacceptable “Other” which was not only unqualified to serve, but possibly ineligible. Ironically, many of the original doubts about Obama’s citizenship allegedly came from supporters of Clinton, and appear to have some connection to the “truther” conspiracy theory, which argues that the US government was behind 9-11. It is possible that those “ardent” supporters of Clinton who challenged Obama’s birth place were in place as a result of Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos: given the timing of the rise of these questions, that is not too far-fetched an idea. However, once this suggestion was released into the general public, wherever it started, it spread on the Right like wildfire. Conservatives were looking for anything that could stick to Obama, even as their candidate was flailing in the summer and was about to throw a “hail-mary” and nominate Palin a couple months later.
By August the notion of Obama as not just un-American but NON-American had made its way so deeply into the consciences of the Right that McCain actually had to correct some lady at a town hall meeting who referred to Obama as an “Arab” and was booed for calling Obama a “decent person.” Importantly, the words of another speaker at that meeting spoke to the heart of the dislike of the Right for Obama. He said what was on the mind of most of the American Right during the summer and fall of 2008: “We’re scared of an Obama Presidency.” This was not a slick, prepared talking point from an organized Political Campaign- that person was on his own script. This script had largely been adopted by Republican voters, and was subsequently stoked by Republican candidates. McCain’s rhetoric ended up reflecting this sort of fear. In the fall, one of his talking points was that Obama’s election would invite a “test” of the US from some malevolent foreign power, as we were entering into the deepest recession in recent American History, though the Right crafted this talking point from a late-season gaffe made by Joe Biden.
Auto Destabilization in Action: The Aftermath of the 2008 Election
After the election, not only had the GOP remained convinced that there was no working with Obama, they spent their time actively undermining his Presidency. Obama’s election represented a crisis for the GOP: Here was an incredibly popular individual who, for all intents and purposes, did not support the war and did not support the same policies as the Republicans.
- He was not one of the compliant Democrats who helped President George W. Bush go to war against Iraq. In fact, he campaigned and won in the primaries on his opposition to the war.
- He did not endorse the GOP’s economic program for the United States, which was more or less a new reissue of orthodox supply-side Reganomics.
- He sought ostensibly to reform health care, and envisioned a bigger role for the Government. (This list says nothing about his race.)
The GOP disagreed with Obama’s supposed positions on the economy, national security, and philosophy of government. These three crises were enough to cause them to adopt the position that working with him was impossible. The GOP adopted this position soon after Obama emerged as the front runner in the Democratic Primaries.
Almost immediately following his victory, groups who were “fed up” with the President’s policies begin to form, as if they had opportunity to experience his policies before he had the opportunity to make them. The first public efforts to undermine the the Government during the Obama Administration came as opposition to the Troubled Assets Relief Program, a law signed into effect by George Bush with the support of then-Senator Barack Obama. During the public ranting of Mr. Rick Santelli, a financial reporter from CNBC, the issue was phrased in terms which would become all too familiar under a different appellation. He talked about subsidizing a dead-beat neighbor’s house, “carrying the water for those who want to drink the water.” By 2012, this concept had been restated as “makers” and “takers”, or those who apparently use money to make jobs and those who merely take hand-outs from government. Directly following Santelli’s rant in February 2009, the US saw the rise of the “astroturf” movement known as the TEA Party and the statement by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, that the goal of his Party was to see to it that Obama was not re-elected to a second term (The famous “one term President” line was said in an interview in October of 2010 with the National Journal.)
For the next two years, Obama would face growing grass roots efforts to prevent the Democrats from passing anything substantial into law for the President to sign, to include naming judges and other bureaucrats which before would have sailed through Government. The entire time, the Republicans in the legislature blamed the President for not only the economy, (which he has zero control over without at least the help of legislation from the Congress) but also for the failure of that same legislature to do anything of any import, save possibly a deeply flawed health insurance bill which draws the ire of both those who want to see the President removed from office, and those in the small group of people who want it to make more sweeping reform, up to and including single payer health insurance. The population themselves merely responded on cue with cries of “socialism” or “tyranny”. In fact, we now know that all of this animosity for the President was carefully scripted and choreographed by a few well-connected and well-heeled individuals, who then used the public “outrage” to influence the direction of the Government in order to deny the President any sort of opportunity to appear to govern.
This is important: What Mr. McConnell did not mention at the time that he made his infamous statement was that his Party was already working to ensure that Obama would be a “no-term” President: Their aim was to ensure that Obama accomplished nothing while in office. A perfect example of the GOP’s efforts is the fight over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The President spent the first year “negotiating” with a Republican Party who proposed things like a public health Marketplace, but then rejected them when the President formally offered them in lieu of substantive reform. The process wasted more than a year of Obama’s first term, and in the end, the bill passed battered, bruised, and watered-down through a Democrat House, and a GOP-locked Senate. The Bill was signed into law, and the GOP proceeded to use the Bill as a weapon against the Democrats, who predictably lost control of the House eight months later. The losing Democrats were largely replaced by a large group of TEA Party radicals, bent on refusing to compromise on anything, even to the chagrin of their own Party on many occasions. What followed was a series of efforts to repeal the Insurance Reform on purely ideological grounds, and repeated efforts to sink the credit of the United States under a default.
In the US, the GOP, and their partisan allies among the TEA Party and other right wing associations, did whatever they could to stoke fear in the population. This fear, of course turns into siege mentality, which then translates into hatred and resentment of the object of that fear. The Right is today a bunkered fortress full of people who are either cowering behind high walls, built against an onslaught of the feared “Other” which will never come because it is not real, or people standing on the wall, armed to the teeth, just waiting for an excuse to begin shooting.
In 2010, a group of even more-hardened opponents of Obama were elected from several anti-Obama districts (and, after the 2012 Romney-Ryan fiasco, anti- anyone who even suggested the possibility of cutting a deal with the Democrats) across the country. At the same time, a coordinated effort was made to at least temporarily seize the State House in many states just in time for redistricting, which would ensure that these radical districts stayed radical for at least another 10 years. Upon entering office, they proceeded to shut the government down. When the Government was not having a staring contest with the world’s creditors, the government was voting to repeal or neuter Obamacare several dozen times.
The Real Enemy: The GOP aims at taking apart the Country
This has, to the population of the country, been the sole activity of the US Congress for the last four years. It is no wonder that Americans now have such a dismal appraisal of the US Congress. To most, Americans, their own congressman or woman is out there fighting the good fight- everyone else is the problem, and noting is being accomplished. The Senate, for example, has filibustered almost all of Obama’s lower court nominees for as long as he has been President. They have twice threatened default of the National debt’s interest payments, and have generally, while it was in their power to do so, prevented any activity on a host of the President’s initiatives through scheduling in the House and filibuster in the Senate. All throughout this time, confidence in the institutions of government to do anything, let alone solve any of society’s pressing problems, has eroded to the point that last year, when Congress’ approval Rating hit an all-time low, Cockroaches, Zombies and Hipsters were viewed more favorably than Congress. This summer, as Congressional approval ratings dropped well into single digits, Gallup reported that Americans had virtually lost faith in all branches of Government in General to accomplish anything.
This drop in approval is not accidental, by any stretch of the imagination- It is by design. Before we get into conspiracy territory here, let me preface that comment by noting that destabilization is designed to prevent the detection of one’s own actions. It is designed to prevent the common person from tracing the activities back to their source. Consequently, I can say, with a reasonable degree of certainty that a “smoking gun” document which explicitly outlines an auto-destabilization strategy does not exist.
I am even prepared to claim at this point, that was no auto-destabilization strategy session took place. This does not mean, however, that the GOP has not been undermining the Government since Obama took office. In fact, the auto-destabilization as a strategy is a feature of the governing ideology of the fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party which has been in place for almost 40 years. Choking the activities of government out by denying it revenues is implied in the strategy known as “starving the beast.” (Incidentally, this excellent article from 2007 is essentially a road map to the 2010 midterm elections which have been subsequently described as a “wave” which saw tax-cutting TEA Partiers elected in droves.)
“Starving the beast” as a strategy, aims almost exclusively at eliminating various sources of revenue. “Why focus on revenue instead of spending?” one may ask? Well, first, it’s an easy sell: Anyone who promises to cut your taxes tends to get elected, even if they don’t mean it. Promising to cut spending, on the other hand, is an impossible sell- Once a program is launched, it is notoriously difficult to end it.
But getting votes is not the real reason to cut revenue. The second purpose of cutting revenue is that “the budget deficit” becomes a convenient excuse to cut “big spending.” You get there by relentlessly cutting revenues, which creates an artificial budget deficit, and then you use that deficit as an excuse to attack spending. A manufacture shortfall in revenue becomes a very real ceiling on spending when conservative politicians are able to scare the population into believing that the government is out of control and that the deficit will be the downfall of our entire society.
But for fiscal conservatives, “big spending,” is only ever a code phrase applied to social spending- usually poor relief of some sort or programs which benefit primarily minorities of some status or another- but never includes security and military spending. The goal of the fiscal conservatives is to cut spending on the “takers” in the society, at whatever costs. The way to get rid of poverty in our society is quite literally to starve it out of existence. Auto-destabilization is therefore a strategy which aims at a much bigger ultimate goal than just messing with Obama. It is about ending the social contract which currently holds our liberal democracy together. Obama just happened along at the confluence of events when Republicans finally felt confident enough to try to put this policy fully into effect. He merely represented a convenient lightning rod for legions of convinced “conservatives”.
Legislation has ground to a halt in the United States to the point that it really wouldn’t matter if the GOP won the Senate back this fall: The same exact amount of legislation will be enacted in March of next year as was enacted in March of this year. And 2012’s controversial Supreme Court decision, known as Citizens’ United ensures that the same money which covertly funded the rise of the TEA Party will now openly influence political elections across the country for the foreseeable future.
The above narrative says nothing of the good that has occurred during the President’s administration. It is possible that despite the unwillingness of the Legislature to constructively govern the United States, Obama’s Presidency will still be looked at as one of the most consequential administrations in post-Civil Rights era. His Administration has seen the most rapid change on social issues, especially changes of attitude toward gay and lesbian Americans. Women will be assigned to combat units for the first time in American history. The Government has cut the deficit in half. The US economy is now, for better or for worse, leaner and hungry again, which are the precursors to an economic expansion. And states have stepped in to fill some of the vacuum left by a functionally defunct national government. The longest wars in US history have come to an end- The Marines just left Helmand Province in Afghanistan yesterday. And for better or worse, there is now a guarantee that all people can theoretically obtain health insurance, while several states have actually expanded Medicaid coverage, and we are finally starting to talk about student loan debt.
All of these things happened as the Republican Party was doing their utmost to create the self-fulfilling prophesy about the utter incompetence of the Government. The unintended side-effect of Republican auto-destabilization, however is that the President now essentially governs through executive order, and the Congress of the United States has little substantial input on most matters. We now come full circle, back to where we started, with the infamous “One term President” statement, which admittedly may have been taken, for years out of context. McConnell said in that important interview with the National Journal, that he wants the President to “change”. The Minority Leader’s words are worth quoting here, at length. He said, in the in 2010: “If he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him… [for example] on his levels of spending and [on] lowering the national debt. If he were to heed that advice, he would, I imagine, find more support among our conference than he would among some in the Senate in his own party.I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.”
In other words, if the President changes, ostensibly to something that is more Republican, then it is not unreasonable for the Republicans to work with him. Spending and the debt are merely two small things that McConnell came up with in the moment. The changes Obama would have to make are, in reality, comprehensive. At any rate, the only way the Republicans would ever be willing to work with Obama is if Obama was something that he can’t possibly be: Obama would have to become the person that Republicans would have supported for the office in the first place. The Republicans must know that this is an unreasonable demand, and consequently, they have accepted that fact and have developed their strategy around that fact. But then again- we have to remember that Obama was simply a target of opportunity: the system of government, which has as one of its primary roles even the slightest degree of interest in providing even a modicum of public goods to individuals who are not wealthy and well-connected, in this nation has always been the real target. And if undermining public support for our system of Government will accomplish the goals of eliminating any sort of public spending in this country, the GOP has been stunningly successful. Their strategy, which allows them to conveniently deny any responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in today, is that of auto-destabilization.
A word of forecast is necessary at this point, as it is in every election season. I predict that there is a high probability that even if the GOP takes the Senate, either nothing will change, or some movement in a constructive direction will happen. I say this because we have regular elections in the United States. Here’s how this works
Up until this point, the GOP has not actually had to govern anything. They can make all the attempts they like to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the House that they like: they know their bill isn’t going anywhere in the Senate. But suppose the GOP controls the Senate now too. Either the Dems will filibuster each and every effort to repeal the bill, making Harry Reid, D-Nevada still the most powerful person in the Legislature (on that particular aspect of government anyway), OR Dems will go along with it, and Obama will Veto the bill. Essentially that is the same process stymieing the GOP now on the ACA. Nothing changes after the election except the person who schedules the votes.
But let’s pretend, bizzaro-world style here, that the Republicans actually got everything they claim to want. Suppose they passed a repeal of the ACA. Supposed they got it through conference, and in a fit of madness, supposed the President signed it. What then? Well- now all of a sudden, those people who have built their political careers on the supposed dictatorial natures of Obama and Reid are now actually in the drivers’ seat of the Government. In other words, they become the Government. They become their own enemy. They become the problem. They become the very beast they went to Washington to starve. And they actually have to come up with something to replace the ACA, which most people like at least some part of. Or- and this is a real stretch, they might finally decide to start working with the President on some policy initiatives. That is, for the above reasons, highly unlikely.
But they won’t: their entire modus operandi over the last 6 years has been to do what they can to undermine the President of the United States. When the population of the US finds out that this is all they had, that they put all of their eggs in that basket, and their response to the challenges of Government is “Well, we trust the private sector to figure everything out…” or, in essence, the same policies of 1929-1933 Herbert Hoover (remember him?) we, as a nation will see the end of the GOP. But the GOP knows this- they attract way more angry white people when they are “outsiders” who are apparently perpetually “shut out of government” by the tyrants in the Democratic Party. When they are no longer “shut out,” all the righteous indignation of their followers, who have been told, time and time again, that “Government is the Problem” will turn on them, the Government. And the GOP is not stupid, though it may suffer from a chronic case of myopia. They know that is not a winning formula for them.
So the prediction, after all, is that it really doesn’t matter if the GOP wins this fall- Things will continue as they are now, whether the Majority Leader is from Nevada or Kentucky. Just like elections in general, the structure of the American System, while shaken a little, is still sound. We just have to learn to be fine knowing that this is how things were supposed to be, and bide our time, until the children who now constitute our various Houses of Congress grow up a little.