ASS-BITTEN

Posted in Rants on September 25th, 2013 by Ed

Most "Government 101" type textbooks begin with a wordy introductory chapter about why government exists. This takes students through basic concepts like the use of politics to solve problems without resorting to violence and collective action problems. CAPs are a very basic kind of problem wherein what is good for an individual (especially in the short term) is not good for the whole. As the recently-mocked Ezra Klein notes, the study of Congress is basically the study of CAPs. The current "efforts" (inasmuch as political kabuki theater counts) to shut down the government are a perfect example; each individual Republican benefits from trying to shut down the government but the party as a whole is likely to suffer badly if it happens.

Individual Republican legislators benefit because trying to shut down the government appeases Teabagging types and lessens the odds of a primary challenge from the right. This situation has been a challenge for the congressional leadership structure for 230 years. Leaders like Boehner & Co. traditionally rely on persuasion to keep members in line. As Klein says, "Threats, flattery, fundraising money, and plum committee assignments are all deployed to keep members of Congress from undermining the group in order to help themselves." In other words, the ability to talk individual members into supporting the collective good depends on the leadership being able to offer rewards that members cannot get elsewhere.

One of the problems the current House GOP is discovering, aside from the general recognition that Boehner is terrible and the backbenchers are a collection of rubes, zealots, and morons, is the fact that fundraising money is no longer an effective carrot. For that, the party has only itself to blame. By fighting so hard for the changes that were ushered in by the Citizens United decision, Republicans created a system in which individual candidates or members of Congress can get gobs of money without the party's help. All they need is a cranky billionaire in their corner or sufficient ideological extremity to ensure access to the Tea Party / FreedomWorks / Koch Industries trough of money. John Boehner's threat to withhold funds from the National Republican Congressional Committee doesn't exactly leave any members, even freshmen, quaking in their boots.

Whatever misfortunes befall the House GOP at this point are rooted in their decades of advocacy for unlimited campaign spending. They got what they wanted and now it is coming back to bite them in the ass. There's only so much the Speaker and Majority Leader can do to sway members with talk of committee seats. When the ability to get elected and re-elected depends more on groups outside of the party than on the party itself, you're not going to have a very cohesive party. If, hypothetically, your members were mostly none-too-bright extremists, you might end up with quite a mess on your hands. When the members are more afraid of the donors and Tea Party groups than the leadership, the collective action problem becomes nearly impossible to resolve.

They have made their bed – let them lie in it. With a Koch brother of their choice. I hear Charles is a cuddler.