A debate’s been raging for a while now over whether Republican leaders actually believe the bullshit they steadily shovel or if they simply know how to pander to their base. The conservative entertainment complex — Fox News, talk radio, etc. — exists solely to inflate and reinforce the epistemic bubble many Republicans exist inside of these days, the bubble that keeps them hermetically sealed off from reality as you and I know it. The question, though, is one with pretty serious implications: Do the members of the actual GOP power structure buy into the big lie peddled to the base, which means that in their mind the lie isn’t a lie at all and Republican leaders live inside the bubble right alongside the Tea Party clowns they now largely represent, or are they just cynical political opportunists?
Most of us used to think there was no way anybody with the cunning to get even a small portion of America to vote for him or her could be clueless and naive enough to willingly detach from inconvenient reality. But then came Mitt Romney and his high-profile advisors, who appeared to be genuinely shocked that Fox News’s adamant assurances were wrong and the country wasn’t sending them to the White House in November of 2012. It seemed incomprehensible that anybody could take Dean Chambers and his “unskewed” polling and the word of the serially wrong Dick Morris more seriously than Nate Silver’s mathematical calculations, but doing so made that landing a hell of a lot harder on election night once gravity took hold.
Which leaves you to wonder whether they’re doing it again. Whether the Republicans in the House who’ve taken the entire country hostage and are threatening to drive us and our economy over a cliff if they don’t get their way — if Obama doesn’t pretend that he never won the 2012 presidential election and gives in to their demands — honestly believe the country is on their side in all this. This morning, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a press release prodding the media — which is nothing new — for reporting the story of the government shutdown in a way that doesn’t stick exclusively to their party talking points:
Last night, hundreds of reporters, journalists, and pundits analyzed a shutdown – well, let’s be honest, a slowdown – of the Federal Government in real time. NBC News broke in live at 12:01 to discuss it (we’re going to guess the same didn’t happen when the government shut down 12 times while Democrat Tip O’Neill was Speaker). There was a pack countdown to shutdown, then a pack realization that nothing noticeable immediately happened at midnight, then a collective period of overtired people cracking jokes and making long-term political prognostications… Keep things in perspective. Harry Reid refuses to negotiate. President Obama refuses to negotiate. They have chosen to shut down the government to protect ObamaCare.
Considering that the press has largely painted the shutdown in the kind of safe, noncommittal terms it does almost all political stories — as the fault of both parties equally and our eminently frustrating broken system in totality — Republicans should probably be reveling in the kind of coverage we’ve seen so far. But it’s likely they truly do believe that they’re completely blameless in this; that they’ve been perfectly reasonable and it’s President Obama who’s the obstinate one; that Sean Hannity is right and everyone is on their side as they fight the socialist tyranny of a plan that will help millions get cheaper health care. While there are certainly many Republicans in Congress who not only know what a terrible idea this shutdown is in general but the damage it’s going to do to the GOP in the eyes of voters, you have to imagine that there are plenty who totally buy into the idea that we’ve all giddily succumbed to Stockholm syndrome or that they’ve done nothing to warrant our potential anger in the first place.
What they’re doing, in reality, is what they’ve done over and over again since Barack Obama took office: attempted to use the safety and economic health of the country as a bargaining chip and turned each and every traditionally uninteresting housekeeping procedure into a forced confrontation and a massive crisis that threatens not only the nation but in many ways the world. They’re extortionists, plain and simple, and if we give in to them they’ll simply do it again. They’re doing it right now specifically because the president was willing to negotiate the last time they pulled this crap.
And any news report that doesn’t come right out and say this — that doesn’t report the unvarnished, ugly truth of the political terrorism the Republican party is engaging in — they should be thanking their lucky stars for right now.