Perhaps the most incisive comment on the Obama administration’s plague of scandals comes from the National Journal. It argues that the scandals will hurt the Republicans “by enraging the base and strengthening the faction least willing to compromise with Obama, the IRS and Benghazi affairs could hurt a GOP shot at the presidency.”
In other words the scandals could so damage trust in the system among some conservatives that they’ll simply opt out of the party game. Sickened by the slow motion, kid-gloves complicity and apparent incompetence of the establishment GOP, a critical mass of Republican supporters may just stay home, like a viewer who’s finally decided that the sport of wrestling is rigged and not worth watching.
This will impede “deal making” according to the National Journal; and deprive the GOP of the juice to put together the coalition necessary to take their turn at the trough. Once they permanently exit the game then by default only the Democrats will keep the field.
There is another danger facing Republicans which the National Journal doesn’t directly address. It can be described thus: if the scandals go too far at unearthing the administration’s rot then even the most craven Republicans will be compelled to do something about it. Like a man in a saloon card game who’s caught someone cheating at cards either they call him out and take what comes or pretend the game is still honest. It’s either ignore the cheating or get ready to clear leather.
What the scandals have done to Washington is taken the former process of horse-trading perilously close to a zero-sum game. Each new revelation bolsters the belief that the administration has already done precisely what the Republicans don’t want to do: gone for for big brass ring. Gone for world domination. There are a lot of suggestive indicators. They’ve politicized the IRS, Treasury, Justice — maybe even the defense department. Maybe they’ve already opted for the zero sum game — with themselves as the winners.
The sheer apocalyptic implication of that possibility gives stories which offer an excuse for inaction a curious attractiveness: “We made mistakes, but without malice”. How one hopes that’s true. These stories allow everyone to hope, permit everyone to delay the irreparable breach. It permits one to plausibly think it is all a misunderstanding, like the man finding someone in bed with his wife or discovering a murder in progress. Because if it is real then all ways run ill.
The key problem for the Republican Party — and also for conservatives of a whole — is deciding what they’re seeing. Whether it the dreaded Incoming over the Pole everyone has watched the radar for all these years or whether is it a flock of birds, a false positive that will clear up momentarily.
The game theoretic of this dilemma is well trodden. Launch on warning, launch on attack, assured second strike. One thing’s for sure: the Republicans won’t launch on warning.
Prudence will probably stay the hand of conservatives and let things limp along for awhile. It will take more, perhaps much more to establish the belief they are actually under attack.
This is as it should be, for the issues are so momentous that nobody wants to risk the political peace by some hot-headed response. Just as it was rational to wait till New York or Los Angeles vanished in a fireball, to wait till one was absolutely sure, it is probably prudent to wait on events since the stakes are just too high not to mind one’s words.
Things will probably have to get a whole lot worse before a critical mass of voters choose the path of despair that the National Journal warns against: the point where they exit the game.
The difficulty is that the restraint does not so far seem symmetric. What is perhaps most disturbing is the sheer effrontery of the administration. They seem unabashed and oblivious to the damage they are causing. They are telling lies that nobody can be expected to believe, almost as if the stranger hiding under the marital bed explains that he’s looking for change he dropped there. He doesn’t actually expect you to believe it. What he wants to know is whether you’re man enough to call him on it.
There is still some way to go until things become crystal clear; a brief space in which to make certain about what is really going on. Like a scan or ultrasound or biopsy you’re waiting on. For once we know the knowledge will bind us. There are dangerous lines to cross, which once traversed make it is hard to go back. Would that the administration’s minions had thought that way. The structures of the Republic were designed to make stark choices unnecessary. Permanent power is a chalice no one should want to drink from. Once that cup is tasted something very wicked this way comes.
A very precious commodity — mutual trust — is at risk in the coming days. If it is trashed and expended, it will be a long time rebuilding it again. We rarely know the value of what we have until we lose it.