The Law of Unintended Consequences is a term that is thrown around a lot, but it is rarely defined, since it isn’t a black-letter law but a “natural” one, so let’s start by giving it a working definition. In a nutshell, it states that the actions of people and groups, and especially the actions of governments, always result in effects that were unanticipated or unintended.
Wise people and those in the social sciences have heeded it since the dawn of civilization. Hell, it’s what Adam Smith was talking about when he referred to the “invisible hand.”
Nonetheless, politicians and so-called opinion leaders, and therefore broad public opinion, have for the most part, ignored it for just as long.
Look no further than the Citizens United ruling two years ago for evidence of it in action.
This year, the GOP should be cruising a calm sea with the wind at their sails. Instead, they are like sharks following a whaling vessel and snapping at one another in the bloody broth.
A Democratic president is facing the worst reelection environment in a generation. The conservative base is fired up to defeat him and should be riding high after securing the largest GOP House majority since the 1940s. Looser campaign finance restrictions have unleashed the ability of the party’s wealthiest donors to spend unlimited amounts.
But instead of a smooth ride, the party is experiencing the bumpiest presidential primary season in anyone’s memory, one that has at times seemed more a carnival than a coronation. It is all happening at a moment when the party knows it has little margin for error, given its fervor to bounce President Obama from office and its desire to incorporate the burgeoning tea party movement into the GOP fold.
The latest bump came last week, when former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum won three contests in a single night, a surprising sweep that revived his flagging candidacy and — once again — ignited angst about front-runner Mitt Romney and whether the party would ever unite.
Given Obama’s vulnerability, “it’s a nomination worth getting, but nobody’s really sat–isfied with who is in the field,” said Matthew Dowd, who was a top campaign strategist for George W. Bush. “There are these real fissures in the party now, and nobody is capable of unifying them.”
The old cliche has it that when it comes to picking their candidates, Democrats fall in love while Republicans fall in line. But this year it would seem that Republican voters are doing neither.
The rank-and-file just can’t get excited about Romney, but without the superPAC money flowing in, he would have the nomination sewn up by now instead of batting .444, having racked up only four wins out of nine contests to date.
Two years ago when the Roberts Court handed down the Citizens United ruling, republicans rejoiced. They wouldn’t have to actually beat the Kenyan-Muslim-Athiest-Communist-usurper (you know what they mean by all that — he’s black!!!) they could just drown him in money!
Democrats were rending the cloth from their breasts and losing many sleepless nights worrying and fretting and wondering how the hell we were going to counter billions and billions of dollars directed at tearing down Democratic candidates and further corrupting our political system.
Well thanks to the Law of Unintended Consequences, they celebrated too soon and we were too quick to feel despairing.
Turns out there’s this thing called “primary season” that we all failed to consider.
Personally, I started breathing a little easier when the GOP failed to take the Senate as well as the House in the 2010 midterms. Even though the superPACs had little if anything to do with that epic GOP fail, the primaries that saw the likes of Christine O’Donnell, Sharon Angle and Ken Buck lose seats that should have been picked up by the republicans were a harbinger of the GOP presidential primaries.
And that’s where the Law of Unintended Consequences rears it’s head.
Tea party (that sounds so much more pleasant than “pig-ignorant, racist, authoritarian assholes” doesn’t it?) plus unlimited amounts of cash = some truly fucked up republican nominating contests — and, most likely, a missed electoral opportunity that will not come along again in this lifetime.
And that opportunity will have been lost forever because of all the money in the primary cycle.
If not for all the superPAC money that has kept the campaigns of Gingrich and Santorum alive, Romney would have had it sewn up after Florida and cruised to the convention. Instead, the republicans are still fighting it out and there is actual, serious talk of a brokered convention, and in some circles it’s gaining traction. (I don’t think it will happen, I still think it’s Romney, but every day that Sure-Shot Santorum and Newticles stay in damages him more and makes him that much easier for Obama to beat in November.)
Before Citizens United, when a campaign ran out of money, it was over. The candidate went home and, unless they were a total douchebag, endorsed one of the remaining candidates, but that isn’t the case any longer. Now, when a candidate runs out of money, they go begging to their sugar-daddy gazillionaire backers to write another check for a few million to the superPAC, and they keep going…all the while telling the public and their opponents “I didn’t coordinate those attacks that called you a pig-fucker with the superPAC, that would be illegal.”
And the realization of what they have wrought is starting to sink in every time Santorum wins a primary or Newt lobs another bomb.
This year, the Democrats may not feel the passion they felt when they first fell in love with Obama, but the republicans aren’t falling in line — but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With every intra-party squabble that flares up, with every shot one of them takes at one of the others, the rank-and-file they need to turn out and vote for them get more and more turned off, and they just don’t bother to show up and vote, because they don’t like any of them.
In a speech last week at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, celebrating what would have been the former president’s 101st birthday, former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour noted that as far back as 1912, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected because he “got to run against two Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, so great was the rift within our party.”
And in the decades since, the party has split into wings as often as not – Thomas E. Dewey’s vs. Robert A. Taft’s; Nelson Rockefeller’s vs. Barry Goldwater’s; Gerald Ford’s vs. Reagan’s.
What’s troublesome now, Barbour said, is that “some voters are seeking purity in their choice. In politics, purity is a dead-dog loser. You need unity, and purity is the enemy of unity.”
I don’t know about you, but purists always piss me off. Hell, I’m honest enough to admit that if I had a purity test — I wouldn’t be able to pass it my damn self. No matter what it is, there is always more to it than meets the eye, and it’s the part you can’t see coming that gets you, every freakin’ time. You could ask the captain of the Titanic if he hadn’t gone down with the ship.