Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 13:57 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 13:57 | SYDNEY

GOP, the radical party


Sam Roggeveen


5 August 2011 15:49

Political institutions are not mere mechanical devices designed to achieve a settled purpose. They are, rather, the product of traditions of behaviour, and are meaningless outside that context. A nation's politics cannot be understood without reference to those traditions, and no one who is unfamiliar with those traditions can practice politics within that system.

In the modern parlance of political theory, these traditions of behaviour are often referred to as 'norms', a tolerable though slightly impoverished version of the idea. James Fallows argues on his blog that the most damaging effect of America's debt standoff may be the erosion of those norms. He quotes former George W Bush speech-writer David Frum:

The debt-ceiling debate feels like one of those tragic episodes out of the history of the fall of republics. To gain their point on a budget matter, Republicans did something unprecedented in the annals of American government. They made a bargaining chip out of the public credit of the United States. In a well-functioning democracy, certain threats are just not used, and the threat to force the country into default should rank high on the list of unacceptable threats.

Yet congressional Republicans not only issued the threat, they did so successfully. They have changed the rules of the game in ways that will have ramifications for a long time. Maybe Democrats will copy them. Or maybe Republicans will do it again. Either way, something that was once unthinkable has become thinkable.

Anyone who thinks the modern Republican Party is a conservative party is kidding themselves. Any group so committed to an abstract ideology and so bent on overturning tradition in the pursuit of power is rightly labeled as radical.

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