Pragmatism vs. Extremism

Published: February 14, 2014

By Jim Lichtman
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And the Gold medal for keeping the U.S. from another default goes to… House and Senate Republicans for voting for a “clean” debt bill!

“The vote to suspend the debt ceiling until mid-March 2015,” The Wall Street Journal reported (Feb. 13), “with no policy measures attached – shows how the House G.O.P. has changed after three bruising years of budget brinkmanship, capped by October’s partial government shutdown.”

And one of the principle participants in the category of wisdom came from Tea Party advocate and Idaho Representative Raul Labrador. “Why go through the theatrics of seeming to fight,” he said, “when you know what the end result is going to be?”

“Today,” the Journal writes, “conservatives such as Mr. Labrador are increasingly willing to substitute pragmatism for the ideological battles they say have produced diminishing returns from a Democratic-controlled Senate and White House. In recent months, Mr. Boehner also has pushed through his caucus a budget deal, spending bill and farm bill.”

Sounds reasonable, but Washington has become a town where reason and common sense do not abide, and the proof lies in the reaction from Tea Party activists. “Officials at several tea-party groups said the debt-ceiling vote will become a defining issue in Republican primaries… ‘It heightens activists’ desire to bring in new blood to Washington, D.C.,’ said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a small-government group. ‘Do you stand with John Boehner and [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell or do you stand for fiscal responsibility?’ ”

This my-way-or-the-highway approach to governance is the biggest problem I have with groups like FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express. And, by the way, it’s the way most Americans view them as well.

According to a recent Gallup survey (Dec. 11), 51 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party movement.

“The image of the U.S. Tea Party movement was fairly neutral in 2010,” Gallup says, “when its political activism may have helped Republicans retake majority control of the U.S. House. By 2011, however, more Americans viewed it unfavorably than favorably, and today they hold a more negative opinion than ever.”

However, Gallup is quick to point out that “The Republican and Democratic parties have also been suffering from an increasingly negative public image, and as long as the Tea Party is viewed as contributing to the unpopular partisan conflict in Washington, rather than remedying it, the movement is likely to remain controversial.”

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his No. 2, John Cornyn of Texas were looking for three additional votes to pass the “clean” bill from the House. John McCain “…pleaded with fellow Republicans to support their leaders, while others directed ire at Senator Ted Cruz…” who was prepared, yet again, to deliver another ideological sermon from the gospel of Dr. Seuss.

While calling Cruz “one of the sharpest students I’ve had in terms of analytical skills,” Alan Dershowitz said of Cruz’s last stunt: “I think you can make a very strong argument that what Ted Cruz is doing is deeply unconstitutional.”

While I strongly agree that both the budget and debt require serious consideration, the only way that’s going to happen is when both parties sit down and engage in meaningful dialogue to reach a genuine bipartisan agreement. Government by brinksmanship doesn’t work.


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