Politics Blog

Power breakdown causes D.C. impasse: Analysis--and update

The impasse in the federal government is about a lot more than irreconcilable ideologies, says Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post.

In the weeks before and since the federal government shutdown, increasing numbers of political analysts have noted that business interests no longer dominate the Republican Party as they once did. Business people, increasingly anxious about the uncertainty that the budgetary impasse is causing, have discovered that they no longer have enough influence to push Republicans to work out a compromise.

Zakaria takes the analysis one step further, observing that the 1996-96 shutdown during the Clinton admnistration was a ploy orchestrated by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Today, Speaker John Boehner is being pulled along by the tea party faction of his party, and his ability to maneuver appears near zero.

Key excerpt:

"What’s happening today is quite unlike the “Contract With America” movement of the 1990s. The tea party is a grass-roots movement of people deeply dissatisfied with the United States’ social, cultural and economic evolution over several decades. It’s crucial to understand that they blame both parties for this degeneration. In a recent Gallup survey, an astounding 43 percent of tea party activists had an unfavorable view of the Republican Party; only 55 percent had a favorable view. They see themselves as insurgents within the GOP, not loyal members. The breakdown of party discipline coupled with the rise of an extreme ideology are the twin forces propelling the current crisis."

From my humble vantage point, it seems as though this "deeply dissatisfied" faction has been out there for several decades. Doesn't this describe the many people (North and South) who flocked to George Wallace's banner in the 1960s?

At the time, a lot of people thought Nixon and Spiro Agnew were making an obvious bid to tap Wallace's base with a "southern strategy" that also reached out to those in the north  who were angry about hippies, peace protests, liberal media etc.--the people that Carroll O'Conner satirized as Archie Bunker.

In 1976, I reported on the state Republican convention in Texas. In that year, accidental President Gerald Ford was seeking nomination and election, in the face of a spirited challenge from Ronald Reagan. Ford won the nomination, but Reagan had won Texas, and his people predominated at the state convention.

When GOP Sen. John Tower rose to address the assembly, there was a lot of booing from the convention floor. Grassroots Republicans were booing their own party's U.S. Senator because he had dared to align himself with a sitting Republican president during the primary campaign.

Four years later, those people had the president they wanted, and they got him for eight years. Everyone seems to agree that Reagan shifted American politics significantly to the right, and the effects of that are still being felt. But that angry segment of the American people doesn't seem to be any smaller. Now they have found a way to get an unprecedented amount of power. They don't have the steering wheel or the gas pedal, but their hands are firmly wrapped around the emergency brake.

 UPDATE: Here's some added discussion of the angry right wing over the last 50 years, from Adam Gopnik at the New Yorker.