Of all the advice offered in the Republican National Committee's impressively frank and overdue report on how to remake its image for the 21st century, one item sticks out for its obviousness and its good sense: make sure people see you as the party that is for something, not just against something.
House Republicans, it seems, did not get the memo, let alone the entire, well-done report. Again, the GOP-run House is voting to repeal Obamacare. Different entities have different counts, but the number of times the House will have voted to vitiate the law is in the upper 30s.
The vote will go nowhere, since the Senate will not follow suit, and of course, the president is not going to sign a piece of legislation to undo the law he spent a great deal of political capital passing. So why bother? GOP freshmen, House Speaker John Boehner notes, want to be on record trying to reverse the law.
But what is the point of that? Surely, these freshmen made their views on the law clear when they were running for office. It may be, in some districts, that this is why they won. But wasting the time of the House, which surely has non-symbolic work to do, just to rack up a vote for a re-election campaign brochure is harder to defend.
It's not just the GOP that engaged in such tactics, although the sheer number of votes to simply undo a complicated law that was challenged in the courts and reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court is unusual. But in both chambers, leaders allow votes that are of little use other than to help a new member establish a record as being in favor of or against abortion rights, or in favor of or against gun control.
And symbolic votes are not entirely useless; there is some merit to forcing lawmakers to go on record on certain issues. But voting dozens of times to repeal the health care law goes well beyond putting members on record. It merely serves to show the American public how dysfunctional Congress remains, with the hallowed chambers – where wars and budgets and civil rights have been debated – being converted into campaign arenas.
Both parties can do better. Saying over and over again what you oppose will win votes. But it's no way to run the country.