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posted: 7/16/2013 10:26 AM

The GOP's principled suicide

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Republicans seem to be adopting the self-immolation tactics of principled martyrs.

Of course, principled or not, you're still dead in the end.

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At this stage in the second term of the president they couldn't defeat, Republicans seem more like stubborn children refusing to come out of their rooms for supper, even though the alternative is going to bed hungry.

This simile is unavoidable in light of the House's recent passage of a farm bill without any provision for food stamps -- the first time in 40 years. The move prompted fantastic outrage from Democrats, notably Florida Rep. Corrine Brown, who shrieked: "Mitt Romney was right: You all do not care about the 47 percent. Shame on you!"

Histrionics aside, whether the fact that something has been done a certain way for 40 years is an argument for repeating the same bears a bit of scrutiny. Republicans argued that they'd prefer to deal with agricultural issues in one bill without the leverage of a welfare program.

These two programs historically were tied together in the spirit of -- watch out now -- compromise. And, though food stamps certainly will be funded, probably at current levels, through some other vehicle, Republicans managed to create yet another partisan problem where none existed and opened themselves up for gratuitous criticism.

Was this really the right fight at the right time?

The wrong time would be in the midst of the politically life-altering debate on immigration reform. Again, congressional Republicans want to parse reform in pieces, excluding the 11 million or so immigrants here illegally, instead of dealing with reform comprehensively, as the Senate has done -- and as most Americans think necessary.

Republicans do have a point, in theory. Comprehensive bills are cumbersome and difficult to enforce. Democrats love great, big lumbering programs because they a) often do great good, at least in the short term; b) create great big, self-sustaining bureaucracies that are by nature self-propagating, and attract large constituencies of voters. This latter is Republicans' chief objection.

But 90 percent of life is picking your battles, and congressional Republicans keep picking the wrong ones. This is not true of all. Former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has joined Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., to push comprehensive immigration reform.

This is also not to say that Democrats have it all right. Both sides are often dishonest and usually self-serving. Democrats are maddeningly disingenuous when they say Republicans are anti-immigrant -- and then lecture us about how this country was built by immigrants.

True, because the entire planet was "built" by immigrants. But why do immigrants want to come specifically to the United States? Not only for jobs, education and opportunity but because we are a nation of laws. Playing by the rules and waiting one's turn are also part of our immigrant legacy.

Likewise, Republicans are not shooting straight when they insist that the Senate bill's path to citizenship is de facto amnesty. As paths go, it's a 13-year pilgrimage along a precipice lined with bramble bushes -- taxes, fines and various fire-burning hoops through which one must leap in order to stand in line. Hardly rose-petal strewed.

To the real point, many Republicans fear that allowing 11 million immigrants to become citizens essentially means 11 million more Democrats. This outcome wasn't preordained, but given the tenor of recent debate, their fears are probably justified.

Republican intransigence is further compounded by the echo chamber of the Tinker Bell Coalition -- The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and National Review's Rich Lowry, who recently co-authored an editorial urging Republicans to drive a stake through the heart of immigration reform.

These are the same two who also thought Sarah Palin would be the perfect running mate for John McCain. Kristol was the first to advance her name and Lowry famously reported seeing starbursts ricocheting around the living room as he watched Palin wink during her vice presidential debate -- and imagined that she was winking at him.

One lapse in judgment doesn't condemn a man to a lifetime of errancy -- and a winking Alaskan beauty is perhaps a test too far -- but fairy dust has a way of contaminating the Republican Way of Thinking. Before you can govern, you have to win. And before you can win, you have to offer something people want to buy.

What Republicans are selling appeals to an ever-diminishing market that doesn't even include their erstwhile allies in the business community. And their self-immolation may prove to have been nothing more than a bonfire of vanities.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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