Raul Labrador, the representative from Idaho so visible in the elite media, has given us something there worth chewing over, at the heart of what this country is about, and in the heart of Raul Labrador.
You’ll find it in a December 14 article for the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza on how a smallish group of U.S. House members called the “Freedom Caucus”, for which Labrador is a spokesman, won enough clout to push out one House speaker, John Boehner, and circumscribe his replacement, Paul Ryan.
Ostensibly, the reasons concern policy: The decisions about how the country should be governed. The policy had mostly to do with the budget, and the prospect that an inability to compromise on it, as federal officials have done for a couple of hundred years and more, might shut down the government. The Caucus has insisted on conditions; noncompliance by the Senate and president may result in a shutdown.
Lizza quoted Labrador, “We don’t want a shutdown, we don’t want a default on the debt, but when the other side knows that you’re unwilling to do it you will always lose,” Labrador said. That means he considers a shutdown and fiscal default an acceptable bargaining chip. The article noted, “Unlike many Republicans, Labrador did not see the shutdown as a permanent stain on the Party. He grabbed one of two large poster-board polling charts leaning against his desk; it was titled ‘Before /After 2013 Shutdown’ and showed the Republican Party’s approval ratings quickly recovering.”
Labrador’s point: “Within a couple of months, people forgot what happened. So our favorables went back up, and our unfavorables went back down.” What was important was not that people thought a government shutdown was damaging or wrong or bad, but that (whew!) the voters have a short memory, and therefore a shutdown won’t be a liability for Republicans when they vote.
He then noted that this year, absent shutdowns, favorable ratings for Republicans have fallen from 41 percent to 32 percent. Why? The party was “governing,” he said, with air quotes. (Don’t give me any garbage about how that’s a term of art or some metaphor or joke. It was perfectly clear.) “If people just want to ‘govern,’ which means bringing more government, they’re always going to choose the Democrat,” he said.
Full stop. Re-read those last paragraphs. Or read the New Yorker article (which, as far as I can tell, Labrador has not objected to). Or what Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote: “That is a remarkable theory of the case: Republicans lose ground when they govern along with Democrats, because achieving bipartisan governing compromise inherently represents capitulation to Dems, in the sense that when government functions, it affirms the Dem vision.”
The way to affirm the Republican vision, by that logic, would be to force our government to collapse. That means governing at all is the problem: Republicans shouldn’t do that. If they actually, you know, “govern”, if they perform their jobs in a useful or constructive manner, they’re part of the problem. The alternative being . . . what? Civic vandalism? A sit-in at the Capitol? That our government ought to be damaged so as not to function?
Be clear about this: However much we dislike things our government does or fails to do, there will be a government of the United States as long as there is a United States. No nation ever has been without a government. Someone will rule here. The theory behind our form of government is that we the people, though our elected representatives, rule – that we govern.
Labrador’s view seems to be that the whole project of governing, or at least of self-government, is terrible. And damaging to his political party. So what does he think his job as a member of Congress is? What is he’s accomplishing if he intentionally rejects governing? And if he – and implicitly his allies too – are not governing, then who does he think should be in charge? I’d like to know who he’d hand the reins over to.
When you see him, ask.