There is a huge and insidious difference between the ideological belief that most government programs inherently can’t work well and the modern conservative movement’s destructive desire to stop the government from working at all. What dominates conservative action is not a belief in the inherent inferiority of government but a radical, nihilistic desire to throw sand into the gears to assure it is inferior. Instead of promoting an ideology based on facts and logic, conservatives’ goal is to change the facts to justify an ideology. From endless Senate Republican filibusters to hysterical attacks on relatively low-level government employees, this is collective action to stop the government from working, and an attempt to drive competent individuals out of civil service.
The near-continuous use of the filibuster by Senate Republicans is not just to stop bills that they consider questionable. While I oppose the idea of a minority veto of legislation, at least that’s a fight about the merits of policy. More destructively, the Senate GOP uses the filibuster to waste time and prevent the chamber from fulfilling its many boring, uncontroversial but necessary functions to run the government smoothly.
Every cloture vote must ripen for 30 hours before being decided. That means Senate Republicans can waste 90 hours on small, uncontroversial measures. Even after a bill gets enough votes that its eventual passage is assured, they still insist on using the rules to eat up Senate floor time. This means small, smart but not crucial bills to improve the government are delayed or abandoned, due to time limits. Conservatives’ actions discourage competent, progressive individuals from becoming public servants.
This time-wasting Republican use of the filibuster has made getting confirmed for even low-level positions a nightmare. The candidates are forced to undergo extreme scrutiny, but even if they are as clean as possible, dozens linger for months before confirmation. This is not because these nominees are controversial or unqualified. It is simply because a few Republican Senators force Democrats to waste 60 hours of floor time to give them a vote. Democrats just don’t have that time to fill hundreds of minor positions.
The government doesn’t run as smoothly as it should because positions remain unnecessarily unfilled. The arduous confirmation process discourages good and dedicated people from seeking these positions.
Actively trying to obstruct the government is not limited to Senate procedure. It also extends to conservative “media”‘s purposeful harassment of minor government officials, as we saw with Van Jones, and more blatantly with Shirley Sherrod. The ridiculous lie created about Sherrod does not come from conservatives thinking she is doing a terrible job as Georgia Director of Rural Development, and feeling an overwhelming need to stop her. And it goes beyond an attempt to embarrass President Obama. It is a warning to all individuals thinking about taking a job with the Administration. You will be harassed. Even if you did nothing wrong, we will make up lies about you in an attempt to ruin your career.
Modern conservatives don’t just believe government is incapable of being the right solution. They are committed to undermining and crippling the government’s functions to ensure it can’t be the solution. They are dedicated to ruining it as part of their nihilistic, self-fulfilling anti-government prophesies.
The most amazing thing is that Congressional Democrats are now publicly acknowledging that politically beneficial nihilism is at the heart of the Republican Party’s actions. Yet Senate Democrats still refuse to take away the Republican minority’s filibuster power, even as the GOP uses it to cripple the government. The Obama Administration is throwing employees under the bus instead of defending them. Democrats are still playing directly into conservative hands, ruining their brand, our economy and their hopes of re-election.