The Republicans’ Radical Nihilism

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Conservatives cannot govern well,” wrote Alan Wolfe in a widely circulated 2006 Washington Monthly essay, “for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”

Now that Republicans control the House of Representatives, thanks in no small part to the rabidly anti-government Tea Party movement, Wolfe has updated his thesis. Conservatives, now that they have a chance, simply won’t govern.

He writes in Democracy Journal:

Every indication we have suggests that in the wake of their midterm success, Republicans will continue on the same path of just saying no. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all but gave the game away when he announced that “the single most important thing we want to achieve” was not the recovery of the economy or passage of any particular legislation but “for President Obama to be a one-term president.” The United States now has a major political party that has dropped policy entirely in favor of politics. The consequences for the future of American democracy will be serious indeed. …

It is commonly said that polarization has become the country’s most serious political problem. But polarization implies two poles, each of which is organized around ideas. The newfound opposition for the sake of opposition characteristic of the conservative movement suggests a far greater danger to democracy than polarization. That danger is not cynicism; even a cynic cares. What we witness instead is nihilism–and in the most literal sense of the term. Nihilism is a philosophical doctrine holding that because life lacks meaning and purpose, it is foolish to believe too fervently in anything. … Right-wing firebrands in the House promise that come hell or high water, they will not compromise. In any democratic political system, but especially in one with divided powers, no compromise means no governance. We can expect a significant number of House members to stand firm in their denial, no matter what happens to the economy, the environment, or the country.

Over at Media Matters, Eric Boehlert accuses the media in general, and the New York Times in particular, of “giving Republican obstructionism a pass.”

“Republicans,” he writes, “have been practicing an unprecedented brand of obstructionism since Obama’s inauguration, but the press has been treating it as normal. It’s not. It’s radical.”

Source: Washington Monthly, Democracy Journal, Media Matters

Image by Gage Skidmore, licensed under Creative Commons.

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