How Did the Right Become So Incompetent?

In the United States has gone into a government shutdown after the ruling Republican Party failed to get enough votes to pass a funding deal in the Senate. This failure was despite The Republican’s controlling both chambers and the Presidency. In a parliamentary system, a government failing to have enough votes for supply would be one doomed to collapse. The US system doesn’t allow for fresh elections to break a political deadlock and so the United States will stop paying its soldiers and close down many of its functions until the impasse can be resolved. This is not the first time the US has had a government shutdown but it is a particularly absurd one. Whereas previous shutdowns have arisen out of cross-party conflicts between branches of government, this one arose because the Republican party could not muster enough of its own votes.

It is both a blessing and a concern that a political party can nominally be in such a position of power and yet be so incapable of brokering deals that it manages to project such an air of incompetence. The ‘blessing’ being that the GOP have been slow in passing their legislative agenda and the concern being that far-right’s agenda is to destroy public confidence in good government.

Nor is this a phenomenon confined to the United States. In the UK the Conservative Party appears to have shifted from competently-evil to clownishly-evil in the space of a few years. I’m not keen to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher’s reputation in any way but she did at least understand the distinction between her arse and her elbow. Of course, Thatcher is a reminder of why we shouldn’t wish too hard for evil to have technical skill in the art of passing legislation…

In Australia, the contrast was clear a few years ago when Julia Gillard’s troubled minority government was replaced at a general election by rightwinger Tony Abbot. Abbot had a strong majority in the lower house of the Australian Parliament but would need to negotiate legislation through the upper-house. The result was a legislative schmozzle that stood in stark contrast with the previous government. While Gillard’s government was beset from within by internal division, beset from without by negative press and relentless attacks from the right, and lacked an overall majority in either of the two houses, somehow it kept passing legislation including some major social reforms – including the life-changing National Disability Insurance Scheme ( ). Abbot, by contrast, struggled despite on paper having significantly more parliamentary power.

In the UK, the US and other countries the party political right is finding itself in a position where it can successfully obstruct but has substantial difficulty governing. The obstructive habit seems to follow conservative parties into office, undermining their own nominal majorities in legislative assemblies and creating virtual minority governments that have to scramble to get basic legislation passed.

At its heart is the slow disintegration of cooperation on the right. The habit of booking no quarter with centre-left parties has become a well-practised vice that extends to within the coalitions that make up conservatism’s own political parties. Common values and pragmatism have been eroded, leaving an increasingly fractured culture on the right.




24 responses to “How Did the Right Become So Incompetent?”

  1. Well, Thatcher and Reagan are supposed (by some) to have marked the change between “consensus politics” (as in, politicians working more or less together to attain workable deals) and “conviction politics” (politicians driven by an ideology which they believe in to the exclusion of other viewpoints.)

    The problem is, when conviction politics are in the ascendant, competence isn’t the only criterion, or even the principle criterion, for choosing the members of a government. While Thatcher herself may have been reasonably competent, her policy of choosing Cabinet ministers based on the question “is he One Of Us?” led to the Conservative party gradually filling up with ideological yes-men; independent thought (and especially critical thought) was not encouraged. I’ve said before, elsewhere, that it is frightening to contemplate the mind of a woman who looked at people like Francis Pym and James Prior and saw them as dangerous left-wing intellectuals….

    The end result (in my own leftist opinion) was a Cabinet and largely a parliamentary party full of sycophants and ghastly no-hopers who, in a saner world, would have been left to moulder on the back benches for their Parliamentary careers, rising every six months or so to ask about fishing licenses or local bus services.

    This is, of course, not a problem confined to the right wing. The Politburo under Stalin was not exactly noted for glittering talent, either.

    Of course, the danger with ideological politics is, adherence to the dominant ideology becomes more and more important, sometimes to the exclusion of all else, until finally you arrive at a politician who is all ideological correctness, untainted by any contaminating process of thought. Thank goodness I can’t think of anyone like that in modern politics, eh?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Reagan frequently had the same problem–his Cabinet filled up with numerous embarrassing “true believers” like Meese and Watt who were there because they were his sort of people. Further most of the “establishment types” were the most flexible members thereof, like Bush and Rumsfeld, men who didn’t believe in letting things like laws getting in the way of What Had To Be Done(tm). If Reagan (and Bush I) are better remembered today than they should be, a lot of it is because they were in at the start of the rot, not from any particular virtue.

      Liked by 3 people

    • And, as I noted before, it’s not just a time thing so much as a generational thing. We’re over a generation on from Reagan and Thatcher’s day, and not only do we have the ‘select along ideological lines’ going on, we’ve got an entire generation of junior members who treat that as normal, while the older generation who were actually willing to get things done are dying off or retiring. All the people coming in are the enthusiastic sorts who don’t realize that a lot of the politics from before was just there to stir them up into voting; they actually believe that it’s a Good vs. Evil situation, and that there can be no compromise.

      Liked by 1 person

      • With it looking more and more likely that Labour are going to start forcing moderate MPs to go through mandatory re-selection it’s not just the right in the uk that’s “selecting on ideological grounds”

        As a centrist I despair.


      • We’re currently experiencing a version of that with our social-democratic party who only narrowly voted for reentering coalition talks with the conservatives rather than refuse to govern, so they won’t have to give up some of their precious policy goals. Earlier, the liberal party, which is ideoligically closer to the conservatives than the social democrats, broke off coalition talks like a kid throwing a tantrum, while the far more tantrum-prone green party was actually willing to make compromises. Unfortunately, there are incompetents on all sides of the political spectrum.


  2. I’m not keen to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher’s reputation in any way but she did at least understand the distinction between her arse and her elbow.

    Unfortunately, President Asterisk and his merry band of unqualified, dysfunctional sycophants can’t even manage that.

    Mitch McConnell couldn’t even get 50 Republican votes for the Continuing Resolution [to fund the government]. Four Repubs voted against (John McCain wasn’t there, but he indicated he would have also been a NO vote); 5 Democrats [from states where Trump won] voted FOR.

    But McConnell and his band of obstructionists started this, nine years ago under Barack Obama, when they filibustered EVERYTHING, thus creating the impression that 60 votes in the Senate are always required. Historically, this simply isn’t so. Filibusters for legislation were relatively rare until Obama’s election. Hmmm…..wonder why?

    So it gives me a bit of [admittedly bittersweet] satisfaction for McConnell’s tactic to turn around and bite him in his turtle-shelled ass.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There’s an excellent opinion piece by Richard Wolfe in today’s Guardian on precisely that point.


  3. Apparently it did. Well, let’s try again…

    I’m not keen to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher’s reputation in any way but she did at least understand the distinction between her arse and her elbow.

    Unfortunately, President Asterisk and his merry band of unqualified, dysfunctional sycophants can’t even manage that.

    Mitch McConnell couldn’t even get 50 Repub votes for the Continuing Resolution [to fund the government]. 4 Repubs voted against (John McCain wasn’t there, but he indicated his vote would also have been a No). Five Democrats [from states where Trump won] voted FOR. Hence the blatant dishonesty of trying to pin this on Democrats, when they didn’t have the votes within their own caucus.

    But this business of requiring 60 votes in the Senate to pass anything is ahistorical…filibusters for legislation weren’t common until the election of Barack Obama. Hmm…wonder why? They began to be used more under the very leadership of then-Senate Minority leader… (wait for it)… MITCH MCCONNELL.

    So it gives me a bit of [admittedly bittersweet] satisfaction to see McConnell’s tactic turn around and bite him in his turtle-shelled ass.


  4. It’s not incompetence. It’s a battle of factions in the Republican party. None of them really care about what happens to the American people, so it’s less incompetence than strategy in competing agendas. There was a bipartisan deal, they got Trump to agree to it, then the “Freedom Caucus” crew came in and talked Trump into reneging on it, so they can play hostages and pursue their particular agendas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Kat

      It’s a battle of factions in the Republican party. None of them really care about what happens to the American people, so it’s less incompetence than strategy in competing agendas.

      Also, as the horrid tax bill (i.e. gold-plated gift to rich people) proved, their only concerns are their millionaire/billionaire donors who they think will get them elected. Donald Trump is only concerned about his white supremacist base. They are completely forgetting that they are elected to serve the whole of the American people, not just the paler and richer parts of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are three factions of Republicans with some overlap — the establishment finance ones who like a veneer of civility to their aristocracy, the objectivist libertarians who are a swirling mass of techlords/altright/white supremacist/media who think the Capital in The Hunger Games created an ideal civilization; and the fundamentalist theocrats who want to control the population, particularly women, and the government through their religion. The one thing they all agree on to get their way is to impoverish and control American workers as much as possible — take away government aid, public education or at least segregate it and make higher skills education a debt prison, block them from healthcare and keep it bankrupting them into poverty, stagnate and decrease wages, exploit the workforce with extreme conditions, tax cuts for the rich that bankrupts governments, fill the prisons and exploit them for cheap labor then keep them from working if they’re released, etc.

        Impoverished workers are desperate and will put up with any conditions, lack of safety, low wages, loss of rights and privacy, environmental pollution, etc. Impoverished workers (who tend to vote Democrat,) aren’t as able to vote and you can up that with voter i.d. and other suppression tactics. Impoverished workers can’t own things that could make them less poor — stocks, houses, cars. Impoverished workers turn to the church for help, any chance of healthcare (Catholics taking over the hospitals,) and are thus controllable and exploitable by religious organizations. Their entire united philosophy is going medieval on our asses — as it is in most repressive regimes and conservative political groups.

        A major engine for doing this is to convince the supreme group — white people with their bonus points — that they will lose their bonus points, that they are being outnumbered and threatened by brown people who are sucking up the resources and what little government aid there is. It’s the brown people who are to blame for all, not the rich white people. Poorer whites will actually side with poorer brown people in voting Democrat, but the Republicans have focused on middle and upper middle class whites who find it much easier to blame brown people than themselves for the situation, and they can get enough rural poorer white voters to vote against their own interests. Because at least they’ll be protected from and raised above the brown people even if their wages drop, their skills are third world, and they have to go back to picking crops for pennies and being enslaved in debt to the company store.

        Add telling white far left and independents that the Democrats are just too cozy with corporations so that they’ll throw the brown people under a bus and let the Republican super-global-corporatists into power with no understanding of irony, and a media owned mainly by rich white male Republicans who keep painting the Democrats as confused losers, and it’s worked pretty well for forty years. So it’s just a matter of Republican politicians jostling for who gets their stuff the most right now, arguments on how far and how quickly American workers can be impoverished versus potential uprisings, how much bald-faced corruption they should try to pull off, and who gets screen-time and donation competitions. They got the tax cut they’d been after for several decades, so right now this is fighting over the left-over spoils for power and more worker impoverishment.

        So yeah, they are incompetent as governing politicians. But they’ve always been incompetent as governing politicians. For what they are actually after, however, they’ve been fairly competent. And we’ve been really great at just handing it over to them in the new century.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Although I try to vote in line with my principles I also have a basic requirement for competence, which once or twice has meant I’ve cast a vote in a slightly dubious direction because I felt the principled choice was screwing things up too badly and needed an election loss to go away and think about what they’d done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve ended up voting “none of the above” when the choices have gotten unpalatable all round. My constituency doesn’t even seem to attract independents, or even joke candidates, these days.


  6. In the US I think this process has been substantially driven by Fox News, which has made Rupert Murdoch a LOT of money by treating politics as a reality-TV show you can play along at home. Competence doesn’t play well on TV, but fiery loyalty to one’s team *does*. As David Frum says, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox”. And now all they know how to do is what looks good on TV.

    I don’t know how big the Murdoch Effect has been in OZ and the UK, or if you-all are just picking it up from the Fox-driven crazies here.

    Liked by 1 person

%d bloggers like this: