With more than a dozen Senate Republicans now pushing the truly radical plan to try to defund the federal government in order to stop the implementation of President Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, the news media are faced with an acute challenge: Convey the unprecedented nature of the GOP's latest obstructionist strategy, or simply report the maneuvers as politics as usual in the nation's permanently gridlocked Capitol.
To the surprise of no one who has followed the press' timidity towards the GOP in recent years and its open admiration of Republican hardball tactics, the answer is the news media have done very little to explain just how extreme and completely unprecedented the latest Republican gamut is. By doing so, the press has once again allowed the GOP to move the goal posts in defining acceptable, mainstream behavior.
The new plot is so off the wall that even some GOP leaders have condemned it as "silly" and a waste of time. But their critique deals mostly with partisan politics and their concern a possible government shutdown sparked by health care protest would hurt the Republican Party in the long run.
In terms of the sheer craziness of the strategy (i.e. who brings the government to a halt in order to kill a single law that's already been passed?), the Beltway press has mostly looked away and failed to put this absurdity in its proper context.
Unfortunately, that follows the media's tradition in recent years of letting the GOP practice an unheard brand of obstructionism and pay no price, and to draw little scorn in the press. (See: Cabinet nominations, sequestration, emergency relief funds and judicial picks.) It appears there's no cockamamie strategy or political plan that Republicans can ponder that the Beltway press won't immediately legitimize and take seriously.
The press for years now has failed to provide a framework with regards to the radical ways that now define the GOP, to the point where shutting down the federal government in order to eradicate a law that Republicans were unable to stop from being passed is casually referred to as "the plan," or the "strategy."
It's much, much more than that. It's unprecedented. And pundits and reporters ought to include that crucial context.
The latest anti-Obamacare effort led by Republican Sen. Sen. Mike Lee, pledges to not "support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of Obamacare." In other words, Republicans should block further funding for the government if the federal government is going to implement the president's health care initiative; an initiative that the Supreme Court has ruled is lawful, and an initiative that Obama ran on twice, scoring a pair of electoral landslide victories over Republicans.
Yet note the colorless language that's commonly used when describing the Republican scheme:
* "a drive" (Wall Street Journal)
* "the effort" (Politico)
* "the defunding bid" (Reuters)
* "a new push" (New York Times)
* "a plan" (Washington Post)
* the "strategy" (Time)
* "the campaign" (The Hill)
Technically, the Republican's bizarre plot is all those things. But it's also so much more. (That's like describing the Titanic as a large ocean liner.) And news consumers deserve to know just how fanatical the plot is. None of the news accounts listed above did that.
Despite its obsessive opposition to the already-passed Obamacare law, Republicans have offered up no alternative and made no real effort to amend, or improve, the law. Instead, some Republican Senators are now demanding that Obama fund everything within the federal budget except health care reform. And if he doesn't agree to defund his own hallmark program, Republicans will try to turn off spending for the federal government.
At least that's what Republican Senators, such as Florida's Marco Rubio are suggesting.
"The GOP is free to keep running against the law, and to amend or overturn it if they get the votes," wrote The Daily Beast's Conor Friedersdorf, providing some much needed truth telling. "But what Rubio proposes is madness."
Madness, indeed. So why isn't there a loud and consistent chorus making that point? Why doesn't coverage of the far-right plot explicitly detail the level of unbound nuttiness? Or at least make clear no plan like this has ever been hatched by sitting U.S. Senators?
And why did Norm Ornstein seem so alone when he stated the obvious about the shutdown madness at The National Journal: "It is important to emphasize that this set of moves is simply unprecedented." (Ornstein condemned the budget blackmail as a "contemptible" form of "sabotage.")
The press' continued timidity simply rewards Republicans by mainstreaming far-right behavior. There's little doubt that the Republicans' latest tortured plot to kill Obamacare represents a truly unique form of political folly. There's nothing wrong with the press saying so.