Shh, Nobody Move: The Republicans Are Sane Again!

The one surprise left to us in American politics is the rare appearance of good news — that really is a shock, the jewel at the bottom of Pandora’s box (ἐλπίς, the spirit of Hope, ha ha). And a certain amount of good news has been wandering over the transom in recent weeks, courtesy of the Sanity Wing of the Republican party, of all places, which until late last year I had assumed to be an entirely theoretical phenomenon, like phlogiston.

Back in October, Daily Beast “conservative pundit” David Frum spoke out against the Tea Party in no uncertain terms, calling for “the rational caucus” of Republican congressional leaders to “fend off the crazies.” In this, they failed miserably. The 16-day government shutdown, initiated by the capo di tutti capi of crazies, Ted Cruz, in an attempt to muscle his way in front of a lot of TV cameras (or “defund Obamacare,” take your pick), cost the country $24 billion, and caused the dunce cap to be placed on the head of the U.S. government by the rest of the world’s financial and policy authorities once again. The sheer waste and stupidity of the Tea Party’s narcissistic attempt to explode Washington may have inclined Republicans to pay a little more heed to Frum’s advice since then.

In December, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, a George W. Bush appointee, called the NSA’s domestic phone-tapping program “Orwellian” and told them it was illegal, by gum, and moments later David Brooks had the strangest reckoning, as if he’d buckled under the weight of his own smarm and had to admit all these terrible things at last. Brooks’s lightly veiled self-recriminations were weirdly identical to Alex Pareene’s Hack List parody takedown of him the very next day. Maybe Brooks has been jolted a little closer to reality by the force of his recent divorce; that is no fun, my condolences, but maybe the truth shall set him free.

The American Conservative publishes some fine articles nowadays, too, with real ideas and stuff, well-reasoned and well-written, even if the magazine was founded in part by wackos Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos (anti-Iraq-war wackos though they were). There are some admirable writers over there, former Catholic and “Crunchy Con” Rod Dreher among them, not just pontificating dullards whose claim to seriousness consists in knowing the words “Edmund Burke.” I disagree with these American Conservatives a whole lot of the time, but it’s a real pleasure to be able to have a halfway intelligent and civilized conversation in your head as you read, which is the total opposite of what you will experience if you listen to Ted Cruz talk for even fifteen seconds, viz., an uncontrollable longing for your own face to melt off your skull like the Nazi guy at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I suspect Dreher must have been given a real shot in the arm by this suddenly-halfway-sane Pope, too — of all things! — who came out of nowhere and commenced kissing tumor-head guys and making SEVERAL completely lucid remarks, plus driving himself around in a used Renault 4 and getting rid of that German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, who was like something out of Dante, or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous!? There are plenty more high-livin’ prelates where the Bishop of Bling came from, no doubt, and I will be a lot happier when they start passing condoms out in the cathedrals, but still: a beginning. Andiamo, Your Holiness!

And if that didn’t beat all, Judge John G. Heyburn II, a Kentucky judge appointed by Bush I on the recommendation of Mitch McConnell, ruled that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Bonus points to Judge Heyburn for (presumably) causing Antonin Scalia to stamp his little foot. At this rate Times opiner Ross Douthat will become a Cistercian monk probably, or a Socialist, the sky is the limit.

On reflection, this whole spasm of rationality on the right might very well be owing to Supreme Court Judge John Roberts, who rescued the nation by confirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in the summer of 2012, thereby defending, and not betraying, the Constitution (the real one, not the tricorne-wearing Tea Party fantasy one). When you consider that John Roberts could very easily have handed the presidency right over to Mitt Romney simply by ignoring the Constitution, exactly as Sandra Day O’Connor once did on behalf of George W. Bush! — it is enough to make you plotz.

But he didn’t!

Anyhoo, I mention all this because John Boehner really did succeed in fending off the crazies last month and, stunning many, agreed to pay the nation’s bills, rather than putting us all through another Tea-Party-confected “Debt Limit Crisis,” or Big Jerk Fiasco, as they are also known. Thereby conclusively demonstrating that there exist certain Republicans in Congress who are not gryphons but real congressmen, and who appear to have realized at last that this Tea Party wheeze has gone far enough. Bless that chain-smoking wino, John Boehner! — words I never imagined I would have cause to yell from the balcony at my union-organizing neighbor Jerry across the street.

Writing in Salon last week, Alex Pareene suggested that the appearance of the GOP’s Sanity Caucus comes with dangers of its own. “Right now,” he wrote, “GOP leaders can point to the ire of nutjobs like Broun and assholes like Cruz and tell the press, See? We’ve marginalized them! And everyone is so eager for the Republican “fever” to “break” that the fact that the party hasn’t actually moderated a single one of its various discredited positions won’t much matter.”

Actually, though, they did moderate a discredited position: we cannot but rejoice that Republicans didn’t crash the government again. A low bar, admittedly, but still: without Boehner, we might easily have seen a return to last October’s jaw-dropping attempt to drive the federal government (and with it, the global economy) into a brick wall. Altogether too often the real crazies manage to get to to Washington, courtesy of Rush Limbaugh and co., and they have done terrible harm.

Speaking of whom, Glenn Beck apologized last month for helping to “tear the country apart.” I don’t include this surprising episode in a list of good news from Republicans, because Beck’s fake contrition is all about getting back on TV, since he is not allowed at the grownups’ table anymore and the few advertisers who will touch him with a barge pole appear to be selling mainly selling disaster-preparedness supplies. Conor Friedersdorf wrote the real truth about Beck’s apology in the Atlantic (though he maybe was kidding, some), explaining exactly what Beck would need to do in order to be granted a second chance at earning the trust of American news audiences:

What would suggest contrition and serve America is if Beck came fully clean. If he revisits all the work he has done in his current incarnation, corrects the factual errors that he broadcast, explains the tactics of emotional manipulation and demagoguery that he used, and explains why he and network higher-ups were willing to broadcast so much misinformation to the American people?

Then I’d welcome him back into polite company. But I suspect my pledge won’t ever be tested.

YES. I think we ought to ask him to do that very thing. Only imagine how Glenn Beck would vault to the front ranks of news-making newspersons in this great nation if he were really to Tell All about how Roger Ailes turned a former zoo-radio DJ into a far-right media star. He would be on the cover of every magazine (tempting, right, for someone like Beck?). I hereby add my vote.

What do we do with this new era of Republicanism in our midst? Proceed quietly. I am also a huge admirer of Brian Beutler, whose Affordable Care Act coverage in Salon has been without peer for months on end, but the crowing tone with which he greeted the averting of disaster (“GOP leaders get their just deserts: how the debt limit fight blew up in their faces”) was unhelpful. After all, Republicans are the ones who are going to have to deal with the madwoman in their attic. Nobody but Republicans can get rid of the Tea Party! Wouldn’t it be better to congratulate and openly offer respect to those Republicans whose policies aren’t informed mainly by the end of Thelma & Louise?

Maria Bustillos is a journalist and critic in Los Angeles. Photo from April 8, 2010, by Fibonacci Blue.