In my previous article for PolicyMic, I made an outline for 5 dictatorships to watch in 2013, and I intentionally included John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, in the list. The comments said really everything that can be said on this issue – the majority found it problematic to say the least. So, I decided to write this follow-up piece to better explain why Boehner features next to King Abdullah and company: simply put, the legitimacy crisis of the Republican Party threatens the very viability of the democratic political process in America, and as House Speaker, Boehner symbolizes this reality very well.
Let's take a look at dictatorships first. They are absolutist, reactionary and monolithic at first glance. A second glance reveals that some of this control is not stable, because features like concentration camps, a personality cult, refugees, escapees and defections from the regime show that dictatorships cannot reflect plurality as the inherent quality of any society in time and space, nor avoid the cracks in the monolith, which are locked from the moment of inception and become more pronounced over time. Examples include the defections of North Korean fighter pilots to Bashar al-Assad inner circle of ministers choosing to fly rather than fight. Another feature of dictatorships is their Achilles' heel in terms of succession, which happens through familial governance, one step short of a monarchy, or a coup d'etat. It becomes worse, when there is no agreement on succession and some faction is forced to seize power to restore stability. Ergo, there is no internal alternative to power.
The picture I am painting above is that dictatorships seem stable, but are in reality very windy and uncertain places to be, because their viability is very short in historical terms.
So where are we with the Republican Party? We have the Tea Party, a no-nonsense, black and white grouping that is de facto its own movement and a possible second libertarian front forming behind Rand Paul. Christian fundamentalists, a long-time support group for the GOP might also branch off and find reflection in its own political movement – it would be a weakly correlated variant of Christian parties in Italy and Germany. Out of this mess, a more moderate stream will emerge as well, but it still needs a face and a name.
At the same time, John Boehner received all the negative press about bending over for Obama on the fiscal deal, yet he was re-elected in his position, because not enough Republicans can agree on a figure to replace him; then, we can say he has no viable replacement, but continues to divide the GOP. The earlier point about the illusory control stands, because even if Boehner represents the GOP on paper, we saw that he does not have control over the Republican caucus.
To top off the point, Barack Obama won the elections last November and the 112th Congress received an anti-record for the lowest approval rating in history. It would be an understatement to say that too many Americans feel left out of the political process and specifically, the GOP; if the opposite were true, Obama would not have been re-elected for managing, at best, a standstill economy.
Effectively, we have a paralyzed GOP, torn by centrifugal forces that in turn create a legitimacy crisis, losing the support of the rank-and-file center-of-right members and voters. Total opposition is the instinctive backlash against pressure to change, akin to dictatorships, and it is precisely what the Republicans are doing. With an existential crisis on its hands, the dynamics of the GOP are very similar to those of a failing dictatorship: a bankrupt leadership with no agreeable alternative can only mean institutional expiration and the need for a new form of governance.
At risk is America’s own democracy. The two-party model collapses when one of the parties is no longer functional and turns into a one-party model. I think what we're looking at are the birth pangs of multiparty democracy in America, and a potential future where the Democrats go through the same catharsis. If the fiscal cliff negotiations were an early exercise in coalition politics, we might expect more of the same with the debt ceiling talks and every other national issue after that.
In straightforward terms, if the GOP does not change, it will exist only in the history books.