Does Anyone Win a Political Arms Race?

Having already written about political escalation, I’m under no illusion that the impulse is strong and rarely resisted (at least, not recently).  Yet a discussion I ran across on social media about the “but he FIGHTS!” mindset of #WAR Republicans raised the important, but generally overlooked question of “why”?

There is occasionally a concrete answer to that question.  For example, the GOP Senate blocking Pres. Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, ultimately leading to the confirmation of Pres. Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, by eliminating the filibuster for SCOTUS nominees, was both a gamble and a victory.

Whether the GOP comes to regret escalating the destruction of norms (mostly regarding the filibuster; Dems had preemptively announced their willingness to oppose lame duck SCOTUS nominations) in the medium- to long-term is another question.  Meanwhile, the defense of #WAR as a mindset generally is lacking.

The argument (or assertion, really) that is most often offered is that some sort of pain must be inflicted on the Left in order to make them see the error of their ways.  The example most often cited is the Independent Counsel law.  In the post-Watergate era, Democrats used the politics of scandals and pseudo-scandals to hound GOP administrations through this law until that same law was used to hound Bill Clinton, his administration, and his associates.  This caused Dems to relent and join with the GOP in junking the Independent Counsel statute.

The example illustrates the problems with the argument.  Republicans largely did not support the Clinton-era IC investigations on the ground that it was payback.  They supported the probes because they thought Clinton and his cronies were corrupt (as was often shown to be the case).  And Dems tend to think the same of GOP administrations.

Moreover, dumping the IC law was gratifying given the Constitutional issues involved, but it hardly ended the politicization of scandals and pseudo-scandals.  We still have special counsels, such as investigated the GWBush, Obama, and Trump administrations.  These counsels are more within the control of the executive, but anyone imagining the firestorm that would ensue if Pres. Trump fired the current special counsel understands the practical and political limits are only marginally looser than under the IC law.

In short, getting rid of the IC law was satisfying, but accomplished relatively little.  Yet the death of the IC law is cited as the premiere example to justify political escalation.  Meanwhile, the cycle of political escalation rolls on in a real-time proof that escalation rarely leads to better behavior by either side.

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