This little GOP web video about Democratic unwillingness to agree to the gutting of the constitution is really pretty striking stuff. In essence, the Republicans are placing a heavy political bet on the idea of a terrorist attack happening some time while their “danger” clock is running. If Americans die, they’ll be in a position to clean up. Conversely, if we still have some semblance of legal protections against government surveillance months from now and that clock’s still ticking even though al-Qaeda hasn’t slaughtered any innocents here in the U.S., they’re going to look mighty silly.
That’s the dynamics of this specific fight but, of course, it’s also a microcosm for 21st century politics as a whole. And it’s part of what makes the Republican Party, as currently conceived, so incredibly dangerous. Democracy is a highly imperfect method of getting good government. One thing that makes it work better is the general sense that if good things happen to a country, incumbent politicians will benefit from that whereas if bad things happen, incumbents will suffer. That often leads to election results that aren’t really “deserved” since Jimmy Carter didn’t cause the 70s oil crisis and Bill Clinton didn’t cause the 90s tech boom. But it does keep the incentives where they belong — insofar as things are under the control of politicians, the politicians try to make good things happen.
But not the post-9/11 GOP. Their political meal ticket is a population terrified of terrorism, and nothing whips that terror up quite like actual terrorism in London, Madrid, wherever. The result is a political party that simply can’t adopt policies designed to ratchet-down the level of danger and anxiety.