Democratic infighting is pretty common material for the media. One wing of the party disagrees with another, it picks up some airtime on the networks, people tune in, and it takes on a life of its own, worthy of a reality TV show on Bravo. Name any piece of major legislation, and the accompanying Democratic finger-pointing is pretty much guaranteed.
So what’s the reason for this? I’ve always been of the opinion that the Democratic party isn’t so much a party so much as it is a noisy and squabbling coalition of groups (liberals, minorities, labor, etc.). Usually their interests coincide, but sometimes they don’t. And there’s never a hesitance for one group to throw another group under the bus at any given time, particularly when it comes to advancing your own agenda and thus increasing your own political clout. It’s a zero sum game, with only limited slices of the governmental pie being served up.
The Republican caucus, by contrast, is much more manageable. It’s a bunch of white, affluent, conservative folks who either live in suburbia or out in the sticks. Whereas trying to preside over the Democrats is akin to attempting to impose order over a bunch of kindergarteners in a cupcake factory, running the Republican agenda is like running a country club, orderly, predictable and with little to no dissent. So when you do see disagreement erupt in the ranks of Republicans, pay heed, because it’s likely to be pretty damned interesting.
The latest spat is between Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Grover Norquist, the head of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist is adamant that Congressional Republicans refuse any sort of tax hike, whatsoever, in any form, as the federal government lurches towards something resembling a ‘balanced’ budget. Coburn, the actual practicing politician, privy to negotiations and deal making, is leaving the possibility of raising taxes on the table. Norquist’s position is that any sort of tax increase is a nonstarter, and he pushes incoming Republicans to sign his pledge to refuse any such increases. Coburn recognizes that this kind of inflexibility limits the options that Republicans have in terms of political manoeuvering, thus ultimately undermining their aims.
The GOP controls only the House at this point. It’s entirely possible that come November 2012, they could once again find themselves in the minority (a goal for which I hope and pray). Should that be the case, Republican legislative goals will once again be moot. But, in the meantime, with a senior GOP Senator calling another prominent member of his party the ‘chief cleric of sharia tax law,’ well, it’ll make for entertaining politics in the meantime. Stay tuned.