Beyond the Pale
The strategy of employing pure adversarial tactics in order to win on policy results in actions that are so extreme as to go "beyond the pale". Unfortunately, these tactics are made subject by the objective press to the "he-said/she-said" journalistic approach, which can make them especially effective. Two examples that come to mind are the "swiftboating" of John Kerry's candidacy during the 2004 Presidential election and the attempts in Congressional hearings to subvert Hillary Clinton's Presidential candidacy.
Things will only get worse
We can see that pure tactics, unencumbered by any sense that some actions may be too extreme in and of themselves, are continuing to be employed with no end in sight.
How did we get here?
US government structure of majority requirement to pass a law in both houses of Congress, elect a president, and issue a Supreme Court decision ensures that a two-party system will persist despite a long history of third(or fourth party) efforts and third(or fourth) independent candidates for President.
The US evolution from primarily agrarian to a modern educated society means that progressive ideals become more and more prevalent.
The coalitions of liberal and conservative constituencies of each of the two major political parties that existed until the 1960s was a historical artifact. It is only natural that the most conservative elements will coalesce in one party and the most liberal elements in the other party. The polarization that is decried by commentators is a natural result of how a majority of like thinking people form to exercise power in a democracy.
During the 1960s and then in subsequent decades, significant progress was made in civil rights of minorities and women, voting rights, and finally LGBT rights.
With the Supreme Court decision in Roe in 1973 it became clear that conservatism in social issues could not be successful in a democratic society if the majority of voters, their representatives, and the courts continued to have a liberal view of society. Progress would be made incrementally through minor changes in laws and court decisions, or in spurts through major legislation or landmark court decisions.
Therefore, as a strategy for success, it only made sense for the most conservative caucus within the Republican Party where conservatives had by now coalesced to adopt an obstructionist strategy on every significant political issue. If significant legislation passed anyway, the next tactic needed to be to look for technical flaws in the law and sue to have the law found unconstitutional. If the suit was unsuccessful, then find another technical glitch and sue again to have the law found unconstitutional. This describes the history of the Affordable Care Act. Congress has for the most part refused to pass technical corrections or clarifications and instead has voted to repeal the health care law many times. In fact, renaming the law “Obamacare” was a cynical attempt by detractors to label the law as the act of a “dictator”.
The mainstream press that prides itself on objectivity struggles to come to terms with the basic law of physics by which (1) a two-party system evolves naturally into a more liberal and a more conservative party, and (2) the most conservative elements of the more conservative party in a modern society will eventually adopt scorched earth opposition to the natural progress of a modern society, ultimately being willing to allow the functioning of the government to come to a halt to keep this government from continuing as an instrument of this progress.
A measure of the worsening picture is that when Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich led the shutdown of the government…but with Barak Obama as President, the stakes were raised beyond government shutdown to threat of default on the US debt instruments.
The scorched earth strategy presents several tactical political advantages to the conservative caucus. Progress in society can be slowed down by preventing consideration and debate on important issues of the day. The functioning of the federal government is impaired by furloughs and these hits at morale of federal workers, so that arguments that the federal government is poorly functioning can become self-fulfilling. Also, these government shutdowns only occur with a Democrat is President and Congress – either one branch or both – is controlled by Republicans, so that voters know if a Republican is elected President, there will be no government shutdown or worse to worry about.
In order to disguise this tactic, the conservative adherents argue vehemently for their cause in terms of strongly held belief, whether or not they hold those beliefs. In fact, on a series of contentious issues, the conservative position is always a loud “No!” and the most plausible sounding argument is advanced, whether or not the argument is credible.
Unfortunately, even our responsible press, in an effort to be fair to all sides, takes its responsibility to mean presentation of two sides of an argument without evaluating the merits of either side. That evaluation is left to the opinion writers.
In their totality, these actions constitute a series of tactics to halt the natural progress of a modern society toward relying on science as a guide, increased rights for women and minorities of all types, and even the functioning of the federal government itself.
Government shutdown/US government default – that is a tactic to keep society from progressing, not a fear that spending is driving us to ruin.
Voter ID laws- these are only to make voting difficult for Democratic voters.
Climate change- defying all logic and responsibility, the most effective way to oppose progressive legislation that responds to the looming threat has been to create a bogus argument about the reality of climate change.
Gun Control – the tactic is to stop any reasonable legislation because the first step can be followed by a second step, etc. The argument is then concocted as – just enforce existing legislation, or it won’t work because some people will still have guns illegally and kill innocent people, etc. I am convinced that the gun lobby might be fine with some of the proposals regarding smart guns or limitations on ammunition, but for the operating principle that any legislative step forward constitutes a step backwards for them and is therefore unacceptable for tactical reasons.
Abortion rights/Contraception rights – Roe made abortion legal in all 50 states, but these rights have effectively been eliminated by laws in many states.
Same-sex marriage – Supreme Court made legal in all 50 states, but individuals who work for the government have refused to issue marriage licenses using the claim of religious liberty.
When do the actions go too far? When are they “beyond the pale”?
U.S. Government default.
Lawsuits to throw out ACA on technicalities.
Appointing as “Democrats” to Federal Election Commission individuals who recently switched party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, apparently in order to be so appointed.
Remember after the 2006 midterm elections when George W. Bush appointed new U.S. attorneys after firing seven of his prior Republican appointees? Some of those fired had not vigorously pursued legal action in alleged voter fraud cases that involved registrations, but not voter impersonation. The counterargument that these firings were normal was that Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and fired the U.S. attorneys, but we are talking about a Republican President firing his own appointees and that is a false comparison to a new Democratic administration following twelve years of Republican administrations.