Tuesday was a humdinger of a day for the GOP leadership. The morning dawned with seemingly every congressional Republican with access to a microphone announcing their intention to block President Obama's plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay; by noon, the Republicans who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee had also announced that they would refuse a hearing to whoever the president might nominate to the Supreme Court — all in response to plans and persons that were, at the time of said announcements, sight-unseen.
For the likes of me — a two-time Obama voter who's conservative in the sense that she would like to conserve the Constitution — it was a pretty infuriating morning, and one rather gets the impression that I was not alone in my fury.
Yet as maddening as the flurry of "no"s was, it was also, in its own way, useful. If nothing else, Tuesday provided the country with an invigorating reminder as to what today's GOP has become: Not simply the Party of No, but the Party of We Will Do Everything In Our Power To Delegitimize This President And Anything To Do With Him.
It can be reasonably argued that the GOP began its transformation into a reflexively anti-Democratic obstructionist movement during the Clinton Administration, but the election of the country's first African-American president induced a kind of contempt-tinged hysteria that demanded new heights of sabotage, starting at a conclave of Republican bigwigs on the very night of the president's first inauguration.
What began in almost cartoonish cloak-and-dagger fashion — a cabal of GOP grandees agreeing secretly over lavish steak dinners to offer "unyielding opposition to every one of the Obama administration's legislative initiatives," according to author Robert Draper — became open policy in 2010 when now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
In this, of course, the GOP failed. Rather spectacularly. In fact, it's remarkable just how spectacularly the Republicans have failed to deny this president a legacy, given their efforts and the inordinate amount of time it took Obama himself to understand that — no, really — the Republicans were never going to meet him half-way.
These (mostly) men have gathered and plotted time and again for more than seven years , and for all their time in Washington, all their political acumen, all their unrepentant obduracy, they have consistently underestimated Barack Obama and failed in their overall mission — the guy they thought they would run out of town has achieved national health care reform; struck a nuclear deal with Iran; normalized relations with Cuba; taken aggressive action on climate change; ended Don't Ask Don't Tell; mandated a higher federal minimum wage; and prevented George W. Bush's Great Recession from becoming another Great Depression. Etc., and so on.
The fight over filling Antonin Scalia's vacancy on the Supreme Court is likely the GOP's last, best hope to throw a spanner in the Obama works — a project made all the more urgent by the demagoguery, bigotry, and populist bedlam that the establishment's scorched-earth methods have unleashed into the election cycle. Having empowered tea partiers and their fellow travelers for their own anti-Obama ends, establishment Republicans who've spent their lives in the hallowed halls of government now face the real possibility of staring down Candidate Trump's supporters with nothing real to show for two solid terms of intransigence. If they're not panicking, they probably should be.
And so in the interim since Tuesday morning, I've moved from rage to a kind of gratitude to the Republican leadership for its latest machinations — there's something bracing in the clarity of their honesty. They are who we thought they were.
Motivated by class interests, a towering sense of entitlement, and a deep fear of the loss of existing power and power structures, today's GOP would rather cripple our nation's highest court for a year or more than provide the sitting president with advice and/or consent on a judicial nominee (not to mention continuing to acquiesce a prison system so fundamentally unconstitutional that it had to be located off American soil).
The Supreme Court battle is still a long way from over, but one can only hope that Democrats meet Republicans' brutal honesty head-on: Create a shadow hearing process for Obama's nominee, to demonstrate how dedicated the GOP is to doing nothing; present the nominee to the American public at every opportunity, to demonstrate how dedicated Democrats are to putting a highly-qualified jurist on the bench; make it crystal clear that the 2016 election is a choice between a party that takes governance seriously, and a party that chose to set the world on fire.
And for the love of God, get out the vote.