Back when I was in college, several of my close friends were conservative Republicans with whom I vehemently disagreed. We met up for lunch from time to time and argued about politics. But at the end of our meetings, we always parted on good terms, and I always felt like I learned something from our discussions.
I think those days are gone. Today's conservative Republicans have veered so far off the deep end that I wonder if my old college buddies could still be considered Republicans.
Even Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of contemporary conservatism, would fail the GOP's current litmus tests on immigration, taxes and gun control, which is why today's Republican Party has become less of a modern political institution and more of an angry, slowly dying dinosaur.
Enter John Boehner, who tried unsuccessfully as Speaker of the House to lead his recalcitrant caucus of Republicans the past four years. This morning, in the face of a pending coup and an impending government shutdown, Boehner finally threw in the towel. The announcement of his resignation came less than 24 hours after he welcomed Pope Francis to Congress.
Why would the most powerful man in Congress, second in line to the presidency, riding high after the photo-op of a lifetime, suddenly abandon his post and head home to Ohio? Probably because he's fed up with all the backstabbing and infighting within his own party. Perhaps because he knows he never really had control over his caucus in the first place. Or maybe he just wasn't up to the challenge of uniting a fractured party in a state of disarray.
All of this begs an obvious question: If the Republican Speaker of the House can't work with his fellow House Republicans, how do you expect the Democratic President of the United States to work with them? And yet, over the past seven years, we've heard from numerous TV pundits and political commentators who have practically suggested that President Obama should wave a magic wand to end the gridlock in Washington.
Yes, President Reagan worked closely with Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill back in the 1980s, but it wasn't Reagan's famous jellybeans or his Hollywood smile that enabled Democrats to negotiate with him. Back then, both parties were willing to compromise at times. And during a time of divided government, neither party threatened to shut down the federal government if it didn't get its way.
Nowadays, if you don't threaten to shut down the government or won't scream and shout like a child, you're not considered a real Republican. There's a mean-spirited four-letter word Republicans use to describe other Republicans who dare to compromise these days: RINO (Republican In Name Only).
No, the recent gridlock in Washington is not because both parties have become more extreme over the years. It's because one party, the Republicans, have become extreme. Noted political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein researched both parties for decades and finally came to the conclusion in 2012 that the GOP is the problem with today's gridlock.
"We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party."
Political scientists call it "asymmetric polarization." It's what happens when one side moves so far away from the middle that it's virtually impossible to reach common ground. That one side is the Republican Party, and that's why the GOP is producing ridiculous presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who can't be taken seriously.
It's also why serious establishment candidates like Jeb Bush are struggling to survive with single-digit numbers in the polls. And it's why supposedly fresh new faces like Carly Fiorina make outrageous claims in a debate where she vowed not to talk to Vladimir Putin, the leader of America's longest standing adversary. If Reagan could talk to Gorbachev, why can't Fiorina talk to Putin?
Never mind, I'm trying to use logic here. Today's Republicans don't respond to logic. They respond to dog-whistle racism and xenophobia. They respond to shallow demagoguery. They respond to outrageous conspiracy theories and cartoonishly inexperienced candidates for public office.
Just don't ask them to respond to John Boehner or Barack Obama.
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