If you’ve been wondering lately who's been writing the Republican playbook, I think I’ve found him. It’s none other than Lenny Dykstra.
Back in his baseball playing days, Dykstra was a tough as nails leadoff hitter famous for filling his cheeks with huge wads of tobacco and crashing into outfield walls. After his playing days were over, he wowed the world with his stock-picking acumen. Made millions. Drove fancy cars. Owned an $18 million mansion. He even had a sink that cost $50,000. (It’s true.)
And then, it all came tumbling down. He went bankrupt. His house was seized. He was indicted. And what did he do? He broke back into his old house ... and stole his prized sink.
Back in November, a new breed of Republican governor was enjoying its own “wow” moment. Rick Snyder was the “one tough nerd” to get Michigan’s financial house in order. Scott Walker was about to take a blow torch to Wisconsin unions. Florida’s Rick Scott won perhaps the most coveted prize on the presidential election map. They were supposed to be the leading edge of the Republican revolution, finally doing what conservatives have long held Americans want their leaders to do: fundamentally recalibrate the way government operates in the public square, and disentangling it from the everyday lives of ordinary people.
But in Sunday’s Washington Post, Norman Ornstein of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute took a moment to detail the woes these boy wonders have since encountered. Rick Snyder’s approval rating is at 33 percent. Scott Walker’s is 43 percent. Rick Scott: 29 percent. [Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Raise the Debt Ceiling?]
Seven months ago they were the toast of the town. Now, milquetoast. What happened?
Well, as Ornstein describes it, the governors launched initiatives aimed at “cutting benefits for the poor and middle class while adding tax breaks for the rich” while also trying to get rid of collective bargaining. As you might imagine, that wasn’t very popular with a lot of people (for instance: the poor and middle class). And, shockingly, it hasn’t done much to balance their state budgets either. So now, according to Ornstein, “the only areas left for meaningful budget reductions are education, Medicaid, and prisons.”
Let’s see: Your approval numbers are in the tank, and all you’ve got left are gutting schools, letting out convicts, and taking healthcare away from disadvantaged kids. I’m guessing, as a re-election strategy, that leaves something to be desired.
In other words: fellas, it ain’t working. And what’s so surprising about all of this is that for some, it’s so surprising. Is it really so hard to figure out that one of the reasons government is its current size and shape is that people have needs that they want their government to try and meet? It doesn’t always work, of course. But frustration over government spending on programs that aren’t working isn’t the same thing as saying people no longer want good public schools. Understanding that distinction is the difference between doing the hard, more complicated work of reforming something that isn’t working as well as we would like, and becoming fixated on an ideological goal that doesn’t end up fixing anything at all. [Read Whispers: GOP Pushes Balanced Budget Amendment.]
Which brings me back to Mr. Dykstra and his beloved sink. Now, in fairness, those of us who have been consigned to using standard-issue sinks can only dream about the hydrological wonders of the $50k variety. Perhaps it dispensed nothing but delicious milkshakes. More likely: Even as his world was crashing down, Dykstra couldn’t take his eyes off the one thing he coveted the most. Now it looks like he’s going to prison.
Republicans may be in for a similar electoral fate. Instead of helping the people they were elected to serve, they’ve gone about ruthlessly pursuing an elusive conservative holy grail. Dismantling government—it’s the GOPs $50,000 sink. And they can’t take their eyes off of it even as their house burns down around them.