For gourmands of political hysteria, Republicans have served a feast:
• House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t take it any more and announced his resignation, thrilling those to his right. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew, thrilling his party’s far right—which tilts over when it isn’t tilting at windmills—and actually causing some Republicans to cry.
• The state Republican apparatus is having financial problems, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s John L. Smith reported extensively on party chair Michael McDonald’s role on the board of a nonprofit that approved a $2 million-plus loan to a company in which he is a partner. Meanwhile, McDonald resigned after three months as deputy state treasurer. His allegedly budget-minded boss, Dan Schwartz, created the nearly six-figure gig for him to handle community outreach and apparently gave him a role in the embattled Education Savings Accounts program. Also, the Clark County Republican chair resigned from the state party’s executive committee, complaining of a lack of minutes and of proper liability insurance.
• Carson City District Judge James Todd Russell threw out a petition filed by a group of right-wing Republicans trying to roll back the $1.1 billion tax package that the 2015 Republican-led Legislature passed at Republican Governor Brian Sandoval’s behest. They say the fight’s not over.
• Republican Assemblywoman Michele Fiore says if people with mental health problems are shooting others, we need to study the drugs they’re taking.
Each of these may seem like a setup waiting for a punch line but each is true, and frightening in one way or another. The question is why it’s happening. Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In 2014, in Nevada, Republicans won all six statewide offices and the Legislature for the first time since 1929; nationally, they won the Senate and expanded their House majority. To many of them, this meant the triumph of their will: They could do as they wished. Never mind that not all of them wished for exactly the same thing, and that we have a system of checks and balances.
The corollary to Acton, Prichard’s Law: “Absence of power corrupts, and total absence of power corrupts totally.” U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, recently demonstrated in his ridiculous hearings on Planned Parenthood that he couldn’t organize a one-horse race, and he wants to be House Speaker. Lobbyists talked about several committee chairs at the recent legislative session who didn’t know which end of the gavel to hold. When you run for office against the very concept of government, why and how should you be expected to know how to govern?
Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Sandoval pushed through a tax hike in part by convincing recalcitrant legislators of the truth: More revenue to improve education would attract the businesses they thought higher taxes would drive away. Does that make Sandoval unusual? He was attorney general for Kenny Guinn, who grasped this. As governor, Paul Laxalt, a father of the modern conservatism and grandfather of Nevada’s attorney general, sought tax hikes and new government agencies when he saw the state’s needs. So did the last Republican governor before him, Charles Russell, the father of the judge who threw out the anti-tax petition. The only Nevada Republican governor of the last half-century who insisted entirely on cuts and no new taxes was Jim Gibbons. Enough said.
The media might want to look in the mirror, too. The 24/7 echo chamber on TV, the Internet and social media enable everybody to get public attention, and a failed businessman who knows how to use Twitter now leads the Republican presidential race. Discussing inaccuracies about Obamacare, NBC’s Chuck Todd said, “What I always love is people say, ‘Well, it’s you folks’ fault in the media.’ No, it’s the President of the United States’ fault for not selling it.”
And while we’re apportioning blame, had Democrats turned out in 2010 and 2014, Republicans would be fighting for power as a minority and wouldn’t have had the chance to gerrymander their House seats to swing their party so far to the right. Would Democrats have been corrupted absolutely? Consider the claim that both parties have strong anti-establishment outsider insurgencies; Republicans have presidential front-runners who never have held public office, while the Democratic anti-establishment insurgent has been in Congress for a quarter of a century and has actually passed legislation by working with the other side. What a concept.