Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Tea Party as the Haqqani Network

by Michael Dorf

As the shock of John Boehner's resignation from the Speaker's chair turns to dread, the main story line is one of appreciation and grim foreboding. From the Democrats' perspective, yes, Boehner was conservative but he was a pragmatic conservative who did a decent job holding things together so that the government could function (mostly) by alternatively reining in the Tea Party/extreme right of the Republican Party and giving them just enough to make them, if not happy, at least unsuccessful in their efforts to sabotage the government.

There is undoubtedly some truth in that characterization. Judged at least by the tactical standards of the modern GOP, Boehner is a moderate. One can imagine having a rational conversation with Boehner about government spending and taxes, even if his substantive positions would be conservative by the standards of the Democratic Party and nearly every left, center-left, and even center-right party in the world. By contrast, given the sorts of things that come out of the mouths of many of the Tea Partiers in Congress and most of the current Republican presidential candidates, it is hard to imagine a conversation with any of them on nearly any topic that wouldn't lead one to marvel that they're not wearing tin-foil hats.

Yet despite the truth to the story of Boehner as the hero we don't really appreciate until he's gone, focusing on this story obscures the larger truth about the GOP over the last four and a half decades but especially since the emergence of the Tea Party in 2010. Even as the ostensible grownups in the Republican leadership tried to prevent the the hard right from driving the Party and the country over a cliff, that same leadership was (mostly) perfectly happy to win congressional elections by courting hard-right support.

The dangerous game that the GOP leadership played over this period is perhaps most aptly analogized to Pakistani policy with respect to terrorism.

"You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors," then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously told the Pakistani government in 2011. Her complaint was that Pakistan was supporting the Afghan Taliban and giving safe harbor to the Haqqani network based on an understanding that these groups would attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan but not Pakistani targets in Pakistan. As the chief diplomat of the U.S., Clinton's chief concern was for U.S. troops and interests, but her statement was also a warning about blowback: Pakistan would not be able to control the radical fundamentalists it was supporting; they would eventually turn (indeed many had already turned) on Pakistan.

Similar warnings have been issued to  the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party for years: You can't keep winning congressional elections based on support from socially conservative, anti-Federal Reserve, anti-corporate Tea Partiers and expect them to fall into line when the party elders insist on some measure on sanity to avoid shutting down the government, sending markets into a tailspin, and doing permanent damage to the global economy along with GOP brand. Or at least you shouldn't be surprised when the snakes don't fall into line.


Shag from Brookline said...

John Bo(eh)ner a hero? I think not. See Paul Krugman's NYTimes column yesterday: "The Blackmail Caucus, a.k.a. the Republican Party."

I'm too old (85) to live to see it, but I imagine the current and succeeding generations will see Bo(eh)ner Gingrich-like on the Sunday political shows for a decade or two.

As to the Tea Party in the role of Haqqari, its overt hatred lingers in the genes of so called moderate conservatives.

Anonymous said...

I Like John Boehner
greetings for him-I pray for healthy and can always provide the best, think about who is best, though many have commented, saying that bad, actually they don't know, the success of John Boehner

Simon Bord said...

Professor Dorf, I may be wrong, but it seems like you are grouping together "socially conservative, anti-Federal Reserve, anti-corporate Tea Partiers" as a unitary voice of "hard right" dissent in the Republican Party. I do not think this view is factually accurate. In some sense, it begs the question, what exactly is "hard right," right-wing, or even conservative in general? One can certainly be extremely socially conservative, yet be relatively moderate on economic issues, for example being in favor of raising the minimum wage (i.e. Rick Santorum). On the other hand, there is an appreciable number of registered Republicans, as well as independents who lean Republican at the voting booth, who are skeptical of the federal reserve's unprecedented monetary policy over the past decade, as well as the role large corporations play in influencing elected official's policy preferences. It doesn't logically follow that the latter group of people, prima facie, must also be extremely socially conservative as well. In fact, I would argue that generally the opposite is true. In summary, grouping together social conservatives with libertarians (arguably most accurate description of the latter)into a single "hard-right" category does a disservice to understanding the Republican Party's current woes and options moving forward post-Boehner.

Shag from Brookline said...

Does Simon have some insight as to " ... understanding the Republican Party's current woes and options moving forward post-Boehner."? I don't know if Simon is a Tea Partier, but if so his description of the Tea Party is a reminder of Will Rogers' "I am not a member of an organized political party, I'm a __________." I don't think the polling on the Tea Party backs up what Simon says.

Joe said...

There are various types of Republicans but they are "grouped together" since repeatedly they -- without much dissent -- promote social conservative things. For instance, how many Republicans, there for tax policy reasons or such, defended Planned Parenthood? How many concerned about corporate power supported campaign finance reform and limits on corporations? I'm all for bipartisan efforts here -- see, e.g., some bipartisan support for criminal justice reform or decriminalization of medical marijuana -- but Prof. Dorf's classifications are not really that off looking at actual results.

Joe said...

The Haqqani Network metaphor is rather strong though.