Decades ago, Newt Gingrich, aka, “Newt the Grinch,” ginned up his aging Republican Party with his notorious, “Contract for America.” It was a Republican Ten Commandments of sort, designed to stupefy policy to false promises conservatives could believe in, at least until after the next election.
The Contract for America was propaganda. Republicans in power were going to give us this, this, and that. We ended up with an Iraq war, one in Afghanistan, continued budget deficits through the roof, with guns and drugs proliferating through our entire country while the Republican War on Drugs simultaneously filled our prisons and jails to absolute, undisputed world-leading incarceration levels.
At the time, the hysterically funny Capital Steps musical satirical group called Newt’s masterpiece the “Contract ON America.” And so, it’s been, for the vast oceans of middle class and working folks. If you were hoping for some help from the Washington folks in charge – well, don’t look to the national Republican Party. They’ve become the Bomb Throwers of Washington. The Hezbollah of the Hill.
Following what was Newt’s second great achievement, defunding and shutting down the government, today’s national Republican Party has become the blackmail and hostage-taking party. The answer to nearly every question is to go nuclear at every turn, to refuse to routinely fund government financial commitments and special needs, to wedge every issue with defunding threat, and to hold the nation or some special concern hostage, until the blackmail yields some pyrrhic victory and Republican leadership can claim a culture wars “win.”
Last month, America suffered the global embarrassment of its party in power threatening to default on America’s obligations unless it got its way overturning prior funding commitments. Kevin McCarthy even yielded on this one to save the nation the worst of this artificial crisis, and his quick maneuvers around Republican hardcores got his tush tossed, and America suffered the better part of a month without a Republican House speaker. We’ve got a new one, finally.
Mild-mannered (looking) Mike Johnson might be our most radicalized speaker yet. A leading election-denier and architect of much of Donald Trump’s insurrection strategy, Mike Johnson is far more a Matt Gaetz at heart than a Ronald Reagan. In Gaetz, we’ll get all the usual cultural warring, plus ever-bigger pushes to move money from the have-nots to the haves.
First up? Blackmailing on Israel. Yup, today’s national Republicans don’t let blackmail stop at our shores. We’ll roll over our democratic allies to get our petty way and score the Josh Hawley fist-wave victory. Not a week into his speakership, Johnson killed Joe Biden’s request for aid to Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine. With two hot wars going on, protecting our allies from aggression, and with America’s word and prestige on the line, Johnson dropped Ukraine and Taiwan completely, and tied approval of the Israel funds to a corresponding reduction in the increased IRS funding, approved in prior budgets.
“NO! to Israel, UNLESS we break the IRS’ knees and take money already allocated, budgeted, and likely already deployed to the besieged agency. Either Israel or the IRS gets shot – you choose!” And that’s the blackmail du jour.
But wait, there’s more.
The budget approval McCarthy sneaked by was only temporarily approved for a brief 45 days. Republicans already wasted half of that short time with sadly humorous House speakership redundant floor votes. So, here we go again, but with more spirit!
No target is sacrosanct or protected from this gangsta governing. Israel. Ukraine. Even more, the American people themselves.
Who “gets it” when Republicans put an AR to the government’s head? You and me. And oddly, the mainstay of today’s Republicanism … older, middle, and lower income, white, often retired types. Folks who need their Medicare, Social Security, and other government services. Folks with grandkids who need their schools fully funded. Need parks and rec. Need freeways and roads. Want a strong military to root for. And used to be against authoritarian leaders who threatened democratic allies …
A funny thing how the IRS is made out to be a villain to these very folks. Funding for the IRS to modernize and improve service and results – after decades of disrepair – is made to be an attack on the “little guy.” No one likes waiting on hold for hours with the IRS – not even little guys – and getting service levels up is a priority. We may not like paying taxes, but we elect officials who approve our budgets, and the IRS is charged with collecting much of the funding for the budgets we approve. Everyone needs to pay their share – including the super-rich, behind much of these IRS-bashing stunts.
But here we are again, with new fake crises and new fake causes. Today’s victims? Israel and Ukraine. Come next month? You and me and our families and our entire nation as we again face another “shut down the government or Americans get it” game of chicken.
Surely by now, our House leadership should know that most Americans are tired of all this fake drama and gangsta governing.
Please. Forget the budget blackmail. Forget the international hostage taking. Just govern. Waving your hands and fist pumping insurrectionists and telling election lies repeatedly and holding you and me hostage … Just quietly govern the country and make the gears spin.
Just make the damn gears spin and get to serious business.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.