When the Wall Street Journal reports that talks are getting serious and that both sides have agreed to keep a lid on the progress of the negotiations to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, you know that the two sides recognize the time has come to do the deed. While the actual details will still be argued over during the next several days, one has a sense that the Republicans understand that they will only damage themselves and their image more significantly than they already have, if they do not get this debate behind them before the leave for Christmas. Everyone will not be happy, especially not Boehner’s right wing and the Tea Partyers, but apparently political reality has even caught up to them as well. (You still could have an agreement before Christmas and then a vote just before New Year’s.)
There are two systemic questions, however, which appear unanswered and for which there may well not be clear understandings as yet but they need to be raised. Most scholars and observers knew that the Obama-Boehner resolution would follow the predictable path that has ensued since Election Day. First there was the Republican Party crying in their milk and some liberal Democrats raising a cheer of triumphalism. This was followed by the right wing re-energized and fighting back with even the Speaker taking a hardline position. There was a brief intermezzo and then some more posturing from the President and the Speaker, plus the emergence of some sane voices from within both parties, especially among Republicans; both Members of Congress as well as talk show host and featured spokespersons. Finally, Obama and Boehner sat down on Sunday; agreed to get the talks moving; appointed staff and negotiators; set up the rule of silence and privacy; and started the clock ticking for a package to be announced drafted and past—hopefully—before Christmas. The question is why, if we knew this would be the scenario, did we bother to create so much anxiety for so many different groups of Americans. To wit, there is no good answer, except that is how politics is played.
The more serious issue will be what if anything the Republican Party and its leadership take from this fight together with the election results of November 6. Despite the fact that they will still have a blocking force in the new Senate and will still control the House, the GOP, after some bloodletting, had better learn a quick lesson about extreme politics in America. It may be fun for a brief while, but it does not lead to governing. If they do not become a more constructive force in governing with a President who still appears to want to govern form his party’s center—not the left—they will be entering the wilderness regardless of what does or does not get passed in the next two years. In addition, if the Republican Party does not awaken fast to the new, rapidly changing demographics in America in the 21st Century, they will move further and further out into the cold as the time passes.