The image of Charlie Sheen, wild-eyed and overly-animated, announcing he's "Winning!" keeps popping into my head. It's not the freshest pop culture refrence in the world, but I suppose we aren't responsible for what our memories serve up in our idle moments. It's not even accurate; Sheen's "Winning!" quote came from a tweet, not an interview, so I have no idea what he looked like when he entered it into a smart phone. Still, it's there: a lunatic with eyes like saucers, circling down in a smoking tailspin, convinced he was on his way to glorious victory, announcing he was "winning!"
What generally gets me thinking about Sheen are stories like this:
National Journal: The two parties are portraying the stalemate over the federal budget and health reform as a titanic clash of principle, but a plurality of Americans believes that causing political problems for President Obama is now the GOP's top priority in Washington, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found.
Respondents didn't view Washington Democrats' motivations quite so cynically, but even so, when the poll asked the public to rank that party's priorities, causing problems for congressional Republicans finished second, only behind reducing health care costs.
Meanwhile, as polls still consistently show that creating jobs remains task one for most Americans, only about one in seven adults in the United Technologies/Congressional Connection survey identified it as the highest priority for either party in Washington.
I suppose the bad rap Democrats are getting here is a result of false equivalency in the media, combined with story after story about the "partisan divide." People are well aware that the parties are less inclined to work together than in the past, but they may not know that -- for Democrats, at least -- it's because they're not very open to standing aside while Republicans engage in open cruelty with a War on the Poor. For Republicans, the motivation seems to be sore loserism and a desire to create failures for Democrats that can be used in political campaigns.
Still, the guys who are getting it hard are the guys on the right. Where "causing problems for Republicans" is a close second for Democrats among indies, the inverse question for Republicans isn't so awfully close. Independent voters see "reducing health care costs" as dems' no. 1 priority at 23% and political troublemakig second at 22%.
For Republicans, it's troublemaking as the top priority with 31% and "reducing government debt" in second at 17% -- not even close. The media's "both sides are just as bad" narrative has made a dent, but it hasn't destroyed swing voters' perception of reality completely.
Even along partisan lines, the perception of the GOP as political troublemakers persists. While only 5% of Democrats see partisan warfare as the Democratic Party's top priority, 14% of Republicans thought the same of their own party. You have to believe that a hefty fraction of that group thinks digging tiger traps for Democrats to fall into is a good thing.
Of course, this isn't the only poll with bad news for Republicans. Greg Sargent breaks down a Quinnipiac poll on the government shutdown:
It finds that 58 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of independents, oppose Congress defunding Obamacare. Seventy two percent, and 74 percent of independents, oppose shutting down major activities of the government to stop the health law. On the debt limit, 64 percent oppose not raising it to block the law. All of this is in spite of plurality disapproval of Obamacare. Dems have opened a nine point lead in the generic House matchup, 43-34...
This probably won't cost them the House of Representatives, since House Republicans have used gerrymandering to draw district lines around groups of voters who are just as crazy as they are. But it doesn't make things easier, either. And gerrymandering won't help them in Senate, Gubernatorial, and Presidential races, where the party is likely now more screwed than ever.
You have to wonder if House Republicans haven't just given up on being a national party for the time being. They undermine their ability to win anything other than rigged house races every chance they get. Maybe they know that the best they can do is be the brakes on progress, holding Democrats back and keeping America trapped in the amber of the status quo. Maybe from their perspective, they know they can't do anything to move things toward whatever Utopia it is that talk radio sells and that the best they can hope for is to prevent things from getting any worse. Maybe they know that the war has long sinced turned against them and that the best they can do is be partisans in the military sense -- militia types engaged in a guerilla war of annoyance, troublemakers who slow down the enemy's plans, but are never really able to stop them. They want to be the monkey wrench in the works. They just want to limit the damage until some outside force swings the war their way. In this type of warfare, the goal isn't winning, so much as delaying defeat long enough for winning to become possible again. All they have to do is hold the House as a home base to throw grenades from and to keep the fading light burning for as long as possible.
Maybe. Or maybe they really are like Charlie Sheen. Maybe they look at this polling data and decide that it's all wrong. After all, it wouldn't be the first time they'd deluded themselves in exactly that way. Whatever's going on inside their skulls, it's pretty clear that the whole "rebranding" thing is out the window. They clearly don't give a damn about alienating voters anymore. Their trust is in their gerrymandered districts and their rigged elections. Maybe they're shoveling more coal into their runaway train because they think it really is going to Reagantopia, rather than a brick wall.
Whatever their thought processes, it's eminently clear that they are not winning. And if the goal is to delay the end, then that's not going very well. They're not not-losing, either.
[photo by Wikimedia Commons]