In the recent New Jersey election, a Republican truck driver (in photo above) with no political experience beat the incumbent Democratic state Senate president while the Democratic governor narrowly won re-election. And now The New York Times declares that the “Republican Party seems to be marching back to relevance.” Only the Times could come up with a line like that, taking from the surprising results of one state election a larger message about the Do-Nothing Party’s “relevance.”
That said, let’s take a look at Do-Nothingness and No-Experience-Necessary as a political strategy. It is, after all, the Republican position generally.
It could be that lots of folks are sick — or deathly ill — of politicians en masse and will take anybody. Lack of political experience may be a qualifier. It, in part, explains Trump.
But, apparently for millions of Americans, doing nothing is what they want from Congress and the government. The New Jersey truck driver claims his election is a repudiation of the government’s efforts to limit the illness and death caused by the coronavirus. Masking requirements, a year of distance learning for kids kept out of classrooms, vaccine mandates — that was apparently too much for some people. I guess they’d prefer that the men and women they elect to office do nothing, and the less experience they have, the better.
I shake my head at what this suggests — that the country is tragically and possibly irreparably divided.
Let’s agree: Incumbents who are corrupt or don’t do their jobs well deserve to be dumped by voters. On the other hand, those who do their jobs responsibly and competently, especially in the midst of a national crisis, would seem to deserve reelection. I mean, that makes sense, right?
But here I am again, trying to make sense of the Republican Party in the Trump era. (I’d call it the post-Trump era but that does not strike me as accurate.)
In my Sunday column, I refer to the GOP as the “Do-Nothing Party” because it fits. Republicans historically prefer that the government do very little for average people. Republicans fought FDR’s New Deal and, after a period of relative moderation through the 1960s and 1970s, became fiercely anti-government in the Reagan era. Newt Gingrich came along and added another level of condemnation of activist government — even caused it to shut down at one point — and, as they did in the Roosevelt period, Republicans claimed Democrats were trying to turn the country into a socialist state. The GOP has been consistently protective of the wealth class while against just about everything that benefits average people, national health insurance being the prime example I raise in my column. If Republicans had prevailed in Congress and the courts, there would have been 20 million more Americans without health insurance today.
Additionally, under Republican rule, the U.S. would not be part of international efforts to arrest climate change, and there would be virtually no domestic agenda aimed at averting more environmental disasters. Republicans during Trump’s presidency failed to pass the way-overdue infrastructure spending that will be a reality under President Biden. Republicans, particularly at the state level, politicized the pandemic and mocked the efforts by public health officials to keep Americans safe from the disease.
At some point, all Americans, independents and Republicans particularly, need to do some serious soul searching.
What do you want? A government that does nothing or a government that looks at problems and tries to solve them? Do you want elected leaders who despise government and take all their cues from histrionic talk radio or do you want men and women who bring informed views, open minds and respect for our constitutional democracy to public office?
Hey, call me an elitist, I prefer the latter in both cases. If you choose the alternative — a do-nothing government led by know-nothing politicians — you are assured of getting the chaos you asked for, as Mencken put it, “good and hard.”