Deaf-as-a-post radicalism afflicting gun lobby and the GOP
The National Rifle Association's long rant on Friday is an ominous sign for the GOP. So is the humiliation of the Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner, by his own Congressional members the night before.
Together they suggest that key elements of the party's base - and its caucus - are still captured by the magical thinking that marked its terrible election campaign and that many of its Washington rank and file are more prepared to grovel for pre-selection than campaign for government.
The fiscal cliff will remove so much money from the economy that it could plunge the nation back into recession.
Boehner had been trying to put together what he called a ''Plan B'' to avoid the worst elements of the so-called ''fiscal cliff'', which the US seems increasingly likely to hit on New Year's Day. Because the Republican-dominated House of Representatives refused to approve the funds the US needed to pay its bills in 2011, the two parties cut a deal to avoid default. Should the two sides not agree to a plan to reduce the deficit by the end of 2012, the Bush-era tax cuts would expire and arbitrary spending cuts across the government would kick in. Overall, the fiscal cliff will remove so much money from the economy that it could plunge the nation back into recession.
But in 2011 the Republican hardliners were betting that Obama would lose the election and they would balance the books by cutting spending while keeping taxes low. But the Republicans failed not only to win the White House and the Senate, they lost the popular vote in the House of Representatives.
Weakened, but by no means chastened, the Republicans resumed fiscal negotiations just hours after Obama claimed victory. After shadow boxing through most of November it appeared last week that real numbers were being discussed.
Obama made concessions, agreeing to increase spending cuts and to raise the bar for tax cuts to those earning less than $US400,000 ($385,000). Still Republicans refused, despite polls that consistently show the party's intransigence is unpopular and are giving Obama his highest approval rating in two years.
On Thursday Boehner announced he had put together a compromise to kick in should a deal not be made by the end of the year. His plan raised the bar for tax cuts to those earning less than $US1 million, sandbagged defence spending and proposed even more spending cuts. The Democrats would never have supported it, but to Boehner's humiliation he could not even get his own party to back it.
His caucus would turn down tax cuts for 98 per cent of Americans because they could not get them for 100 per cent. Boehner cancelled the vote and while his humiliating defeat may cost him his job, the intransigence of his caucus could cost his party more.
There are a few things going on here. Some members cannot grasp that they have less power since the election, just as they could not believe they were headed for defeat before it.
Others are simply saving their own skin in the full knowledge their intransigence could cost the GOP dearly at the mid-term elections in 2014. This mob is so fearful of the Tea Party in their districts they would rather sink a plan to dodge the fiscal cliff than face anti-tax radicals in primary elections.
It is this type of deaf-as-a-post radicalism that was on display in the Willard Hotel on Friday when the NRA's chief Washington lobbyist and executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre ranted that the media, its owners, video games, the mentally ill and unknowable numbers of deranged monsters roaming the streets were responsible for gun crime. But not the number of guns, not the availability of military-style weapons, nor even the lack of proper screening of gun buyers.
The NRA is not the GOP, but the crossover between the two cannot be overstated, especially among both groups' hardliners. Theirs is an angry, ageing white male southern base that is willing the world to be different from what it actually is.
And though the 4 million NRA members stand by their second amendment right to bear arms, many are becoming disillusioned by a leadership wedded to a pro-gun dogma increasingly out of step with the broader public.
These are the pillars of the base that controls Republican primary politics, and until the party frees itself of their delusions it will keep losing elections.