Party in the Shawshank Sewers

One of my favorite radio talk show hosts here in Denver, Mike Rosen, just retired from his daily program last month. I will miss him terribly. Rush used to be my favorite, but he’s fallen off in recent years and his thinly-veiled support for Donald Trump has cemented him in my disfavor.

Mike was a bit of a grumpy old curmudgeon at times. He did not suffer fools lightly. When liberals or ignorant right-wingers would call in and try to challenge him, he would often raise his voice and employ, “Mr. Hold Button.” On the other hand, he did not screen their calls and filter them to the bottom of the queue. Nor did he hang up on them when the disagreement sharpened. Although he quickly became impatient with those whom he regarded as ignorant, I believe that he had an inherent respect for his audience that is lacking in many of his contemporaries.

One of Mike’s maxims is, “Party trumps person.” When I first began listening to him, I did not believe in this bromide. That was before Barack Obama became president, the Tea Party gained prominence and Donald Trump became an unfortunate factor in politics. Mike wrote a column several years ago outlining why he believes in this political principle. Rather than simply copying it here, I will try in my own meager way to illustrate his point through current events. Stick with me, all two of you who read this blog, as the conservative blind guy springs into action.

President Obama has certainly presented a series of challenges to the GOP over the past seven years. Immigration, gun control, the budget, the idea of American exceptionalism, terrorism, gay marriage, racism…all of these political hot potatoes have grown in stature and controversy under Obama’s shadow. But no issue has carried with it the division and derision than the juggernaut that came into being almost five years ago. Democrats call it, The Affordable Care Act. Republicans call it, Obamacare. Simply put, it is Obama’s attempt (with the help of a Democrat-controlled congress) to revamp our healthcare system.

Obamacare became a reality in March of 2010. Since then, we’ve had three national elections. Twice, Republicans made gains, first taking control of the House of Representatives in 2011, then holding the House and gaining a majority in the Senate in 2015. Unfortunately, we lost the 2012 presidential election, thereby allowing the Democrats to maintain control of the most powerful of the three arms of political governance in Washington D.C.

Since Obamacare was enacted, Congressional Republicans have voted more than 60 times to either repeal, reduce or substantially alter it. Most of these votes came from the House where Tea Party candidates held more influence. Yet, Obamacare proved to be the werewolf howling outside the door, and the GOP had no silver bullets. Maybe we could blame the NRA for that one. Yes, every vote proved to be symbolic. Why? Merely because this is what those ever-loving founding fathers intended.

And now, a sidebar as I render unto you, my two readers, a crash course in how the legislative process functions in government.

In order for a bill to become black-letter law, it must be passed in one legislative chamber, it must then be sent to the other legislative chamber, where it must also be passed. Then it is sent to the executive office, otherwise known as the president’s desk. If he gives the bill his signature of approval, it becomes the law of the land. If he vetoes it, it can be sent back to Congress for another vote, but a 2/3 majority in both chambers must choose to override the president’s veto. If a 2/3 majority cannot be mustered, the bill is as dead as Lincoln, Nebraska on a Sunday morning.

Yesterday, on January 6, 2015, the GOP-controlled Congress gave my mother a wonderful birthday gift. They passed a bill that fully repealed Obamacare. It passed in both chambers. Is this a good thing? Yup. Will it make any difference? Nope. It won’t have any more impact than a feather on an elephant’s ass. Why? Because Barack Obama is still our president and he’s a Democrat. Hell hath no fury like a Democrat with a veto pen.

If John McCain had been elected president in 2008, we would not have Obamacare today, even with Congress in Democrat hands. If Mitt Romney had been elected in 2012, and if the senate had still gone to the GOP in 2014, Obamacare would be history tomorrow. But reality is what it is. The Constitution mandates this legislative process and deliberately makes it difficult so that we could not pass laws without the clear consent of the majority of Americans. I don’t think Obama got the memo, because he sure loves his executive orders.

This is why Mike Rosen is right. Party trumps person. It’s not just about legislation in Washington. In Congress, the party in control determines which bills come to the floor for a vote and which get buried with no hope of passage. The party in power controls the various committees such as Ways and Means, Homeland Security, Transportation, etc. These committees not only recommend legislation, but they also create, oversee and dismantle various federal agencies. In other words, the party in power sets the congressional agenda until such time as the balance of power changes hands through the electoral process.

Then, there’s the president. In addition to his or her veto power, the president sets the public agenda through a liaison with the media. The sheer gravitas of his position insures that he will command attention, thereby leading on any issue that presents itself.

The president nominates Supreme Court and federal judges, which has an enormous impact on public policy in this country. Think I’m wrong? Examine how gay marriage came to be the law of the land in America. If John McCain had been elected to office, neither Sonia Sotomayor nor Elena Kagan would currently be seated on the high court. They would not have been around to uphold Obamacare as a valid law.

The president hand-picks his cabinet. Everyone from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Education and all of the rest must carry the stamp approval of the president. Yes, the Senate must confirm each nominee, but the president is the one who ultimately activates the process.

And then, there’s that whole Commander in Chief deal. The president cannot wage war with complete autonomy, but he has the final say in the assignment of generals, the strategic placement of bases and other military facilities, the decisions on the use of drone strikes and bombings, the agenda at the Pentagon, and of course, the military budget.

OH yeah…money. Every year, the president submits a budget to Congress. They can either pass or reject it, but he still dictates the overall priorities of the purse strings. How much money goes to the military? How much to entitlement programs? How much to infrastructure? The president is no small voice in all of those decisions.

This political reality is why I voted for John McCain seven years ago. You know the movie, The Shawshank Redemption? Remember how Andy Dufresne had to swim through 400 yards of raw sewage to escape from the prison? That’s about how I felt when I pulled the lever for McCain. I applauded his military service, but was not a fan of his moderate voting record. Yet, I think I’ve illustrated in the above comments why he would have been a preferable alternative to our current president. I liked Mitt Romney better than McCain, but still felt he was too tepid in his overall approach to the campaign. But he too would have been far more palatable than Obama’s second term has proven to be.

Republicans did not invent this system of government. They merely work within it’s confines, just as the Democrats do. Yet, a growing number of conservatives are choosing to disregard the sage advice of Mike Rosen. They blame what they term, “The Republican Establishment,” for the failure of Congress to do anything substantive since they gained power in the House in 2010. If I haven’t already made it clear, the GOP cannot enact any meaningful, transformative reforms in this country until they control the three arms of government; the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Oval Office.

Another sidebar: I am always skeptical of this so-called Republican Establishment. Are we talking about the establishment that is supporting Marco Rubio? What about the big money behind Jeb Bush, who has about as much traction in the polls as a skittish dog on a sheet of ice. What about the establishment that is backing Chris Christie, or John Kasich? Is Paul Ryan, a guy who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the job of Speaker, part of an establishment? Who comprises this supposed establishment? And how many more times can I say establishment” before you two readers turn it into a drinking game?

It is not my intention to mount a blind defense of the Republican Party. They are guilty of their share of failures. They are a group of imperfect people operating within an imperfect political construct. I was not a particular fan of John Boehner during his tenure as Speaker of the House. I heard too many stories of petty vendettas against conservative malcontents. I appreciate the fact that he tried to compromise with Obama, but he would have been able to draw a harder line if he’d served as more of a unifier within his own party. I realize that a Texas Republican looks somewhat different from a New Jersey Republican, but commonalities must be found and an effective leader should be able to do just that. Boehner failed in this basic mission. But for conservatives to attack Paul Ryan as not conservative enough!? Please!

So, conservatives are mad. They feel underserved, underappreciated and unheard. And their answer is…Donald freakin’ Trump!?

I will save my anti Trump rant for another post. Sufficed to say that, if you appreciate my Shawshank analogy, forget the sewer pipe. Donald Trump is Bogs. If he should win the nomination, he’s the guy who will creep up behind you when you have your pants down, tap you on the shoulder and whisper, “Shhh…honey.”

There are two other lies I want to examine in connection with the Trump phenomenon and the general anger toward the GOP. They are:

1. “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.”

2. “A third party is the only solution to our broken two-party system.”

But I’m growing weary and just tacked up a larger poster of Carly Fiorina on the control room wall, so I need to get back to work. I’ll save those analyses for another day.

So friends, consider my words carefully as the primaries get rolling next month. If you care about our country, learn to understand the intricacies of our political system. Mike Rosen is correct; party does, in deed, trump (small t) person. Yes, sometimes you have to swallow a mouth full of shit, but at the end of your journey, you get to breathe the pure, sweet air of freedom.

Hey, maybe if The Donald wins the White House this November, he can build a wall and force the good folks of Zihuatanejo to pay for it.