Wow, These Folks Really Do Not Like Bridges!

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Photo credit: Angelo Merendino - Getty Images
Photo credit: Angelo Merendino - Getty Images

Some people, I guess, just don’t like bridges. I mean, they really don’t like bridges. If you try to give them a bridge, they might threaten to kill you. From The New York Times:

One caller instructed Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois to slit his wrists and “rot in hell.” Another hoped Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska would slip and fall down a staircase. The office of Representative Nicole Malliotakis of New York has been inundated with angry messages tagging her as a “traitor.”

Investing in the nation’s roads and bridges was once considered one of the last realms of bipartisanship in Congress, and President Biden’s infrastructure bill drew ample support over the summer from Republicans in the Senate. But in the days since 13 House Republicans broke with their party leaders and voted for the $1 trillion legislation last week, they have been flooded by menacing messages from voters — and even some of their own colleagues — who regard their votes as a betrayal.

Part of me sympathizes with these poor bastards. They voted the right way and, at a less insane time in our politics, they voted the safest way, too. The Times correctly points out that voting for infrastructure improvements was one of the easiest votes a congresscritter could take. You vote yes, get your picture taken a few months later in a hardhat and holding a shovel, and then get re-elected by all the folks back home grateful for the chance to drive the kids to band practice without worrying about the roadway collapsing beneath them.

Yes, there was a lot of yelling about “pork,” which was fairly defined as “your” bridge and not “my” bridge. There was the silliness over the Obama stimulus, the apotheosis of which came when then-Vice President Joe Biden dunked on Paul Ryan in a 2012 debate by reading a letter Ryan had written requesting stimulus money for Ryan’s congressional district. And then there was the hysteria over “earmarks.” But not until the current moment did voting to rebuild the country become an issue of life and (so far, vicarious, thank god) death.

The vicious reaction to the passage of the bill, which was negotiated by a group of Republicans and Democrats determined to deliver on a bipartisan priority, reflects how deeply polarization has seeped into the political discourse within the Republican Party, making even the most uncontroversial legislation a potentially toxic vote. The dynamic is a natural outgrowth of the slash-and-burn politics of former President Donald J. Trump, who savaged those in his party who backed the infrastructure bill as “RINOs” — Republicans in name only — who should be “ashamed of themselves.”

Sorry, no. “Polarization” has not “seeped” into the Republican political discourse. It has been loosed into it as a flood. For decades now, there was no seeping. The party has been marinating in this kind of foul bilge-water, and now it may well be saturated beyond hope of repair. The previous president* found a unique way to use the toxic soup for fuel, but it wasn’t as though there wasn’t a vast, existing reservoir for him to draw upon.

Photo credit: Bill Clark - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bill Clark - Getty Images

Which is why my sympathy for these Republicans is quite limited. They’re being treated the way that several generations of Democratic politicians have been treated with the encouragement of the Republican Party. Goes around, comes around. Also, I don’t see any of them criticizing House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy for being a poolroom liar, or for leaving them all hanging out to dry while placating the crazies.

Mr. Biden “should have focused just on infrastructure,” Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, said last month. “But what they want to do is restructure and transform America.”

“If they brought just an infrastructure bill by itself up, you would find, overwhelmingly, Republicans want to work with you and get one through,” he insisted. But the Republicans who joined Democrats last week found themselves scapegoated almost immediately. Hours after the 13 Republicans voted for the bill, explaining in statements that it would deliver badly needed money for transportation and other projects in their districts, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, posted the phone numbers of their Washington offices on her social media accounts.

The Republican Party has become a profound threat to the American republic. It cannot—or will not—change itself. America doesn’t need homegrown Peronism. That’s a bridge too far.

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