I have to date refrained from commenting on the antics of the Congressional Republicans because I can’t bear to follow the story in excruciating detail and plenty of other people on this site have been doing a fine job at expressing the appropriate horror.
That having been said, it occurred to me that I once wrote something about crazies in one’s tent that is strikingly apropos to the real question of the day, to whit, what on earth is to be done about the crazies in the tent?
The title of the post was “I Want To Keep The Crazies Inside The Tent – And Pissing On The Sleeping Bags.”
Usually, the debate is about do you want him outside the tent pissing in versus inside the tent pissing out. Either way, the kind of guy we’re talking about is the kind of guy who can’t hold it for a few minutes to go behind a tree.
In real life, there’s no way you’re going to let a guy like that anywhere near your tent, no matter which way he’s inclined to piss. So, this metaphor is not to be taken too literally.
Now that we’re not taking it too literally, here’s my thinking. There’s a great deal of craziness in the world. A surprising percentage of the people who give any kind of a damn about politics believe some seriously crazy things. Plenty of my people in my own family believe things that are pretty crazy. I’ve believed a few things that are pretty crazy in my time – and I think I’m really quite sane.
Precisely because I’m a naturally cautious and centrist type of person, and precisely because I do tend to measure the reasonableness of opinion in part by what kind of people find it credible, I don’t want the crazies to all be sent off to their own corners where they only have each other for company, work each other up into ever-greater heights of craziness, and become a perpetual threat to the “normal” political system. . . .
By the same token, I don’t want to try to manipulate them into training their craziness exclusively on the other “team” – which is what I take to be the point about having them inside pissing out. Ultimately, that makes you beholden to the crazies, and there may come a point where you can’t tell the difference between them and you.
If they are inside, pissing on the sleeping bag, you aren’t going to get any sleep, you aren’t going to forget they are there, and you aren’t going to forget they are crazy. But you’re going to know where they are and what they are up to, and they are going to be warm and dry. (Warmer and drier than your sleeping bag, anyway.)
I don’t want to anybody thrown out of the GOP because they believe insane things about the President – and, by the same token, I don’t want the President to feel obliged to fire a guy who spent his career hobnobbing with nutters in San Francisco.
I want them inside the tent, pissing on the sleeping bags, so the sane people who are also inside the tent will yell at them to STOP PISSING ON THE SLEEPING BAGS!
If that makes any sense.
It made sense to me at the time – a time when “crazy” meant “thinks the President is a Kenyan Marxist atheist Muslim pal of Bill Ayers” rather than “is prepared to destroy America’s credit rating because . . . well, basically for no reason whatsoever other than pique at not being in charge of the country.”
Since then, the crazies have been pissing inside the tent with a vengeance, and it’s trivial to find conservatives who say they’ve done a huge amount of damage to the GOP. But even though the sleeping bags are pretty well soaked, they just keep on pissing.
Personally, I’ve responded by leaving the tent, because I don’t just think the GOP is incompetent and reckless; I think they are wrong. They are using unsound methods to fight a war that I wouldn’t want them to win anyway. But it’s still kind of important that there be two big tents where citizens can shelter from the storm. So I really do care, not just in a concern-troll-y way, about the state of the GOP. And I wonder if there is any alternative to my 2009-era advice.
I’m worried there isn’t. Daniel Larison’s reply to David Frum’s suggestion that the GOP would benefit from a Tea Party walk out on that score is depressingly cogent, as is Ross Douthat’s point that the “bad populists” are also the primary members of the GOP caucus who are trying to think past the debacle of the Bush years.
I’m not actually that much more pessimistic about the GOP’s chances in the next couple of elections as a consequence of their manifest insanity. The electorate is fickle, after all. For that very reason, though, I’m quite pessimistic about the quality of governance in this country going forward.