That’s what Casey Stengel asked when he found himself managing the hapless Mets after years of glory with the competent Yankees. Today, anyone watching Washington has got to be asking himself the same question.
Maybe the Republicans are just out of practice. In the fifty years since 1967, they have controlled both Houses of Congress for just 16 years, and both Houses and the presidency for just six. It has become both an opposition party and an anti-government party.
So now when it is time to lead and govern, it tries to eliminate government programs that people actually like, and is so habituated to opposition that it is squandering the opportunity to lead by opposing itself.
In five months of unfettered control it has proven unable to pass any of the meaningful legislation it has been promoting, and it has been lukewarm to many of the not-particularly Republican measures Trump ran on.
Having voted dozens of times to repeal Obamacare when it didn’t count, now that it does the party realizes that actually doing so would deprive 22 million people, many its own voters, of Medicaid and other existing programs they rely on to insure their kids or pay for grandma’s nursing home. Shock and awe: only 17 percent of voters like their alternative. It is noteworthy that administration apologists like Tom Price have begun to say they are only taking healthcare away from the “able-bodied.” But everybody’s able-bodied until they get sick. That’s when they need the healthcare.
Worse, the party is cutting $770 billion in healthcare so it can give $700 billion in tax cuts to high earners, 67% to the top 20% of earners and 44% to the top one percent. That blatant reverse Robin Hood act has proven toxic. It is the worst case political malpractice in recent memory. Some members of the party are so spooked by the backlash that they have begun thinking about the unthinkable, collaborating with the Democrats on a bipartisan Obamacare fix.
This is the darkest apostasy imaginable to the scorched-earth wing of the party. And one can only imagine the elitist dog’s breakfast Paul Ryan and the rest of the Ayn Rand Republicans will cook up to comfort the comfortable and afflicted the afflicted when it moves on to “reforming” Social Security, Medicare and the tax system.
The legislative branch has been abetted in its rush to self-destruction by the clueless incompetence of the White House. Trump actually came into office with an articulated, if simplistic agenda — draconian immigration reform, a big beautiful wall, an isolationist foreign policy, economic growth, fair trade, jobs for those displaced by shifts in the economy, the preservation, expansion and improvement of the social safety net, and improved infrastructure.
But so far he has proven too ADHD to devote attention how to implement such a wish list, refuses to learn the details, to collaborate with his own party or to delegate to others. He’s trying to run the vast federal government as if it were a Mom and Pop store in Queens. He insults Democrats who would be amenable to some of his proposals, notably infrastructure, and backs Republicans one day and betrays them the next.
The result has been the healthcare debacle, a travel ban so poorly drafted it got shot down by one court after another, absurd stunts meant to suggest he will turn back the clock by keeping a few air conditioning jobs in Indiana and a few coal mining jobs on West Virginia, and almost nothing else.
His own party is so disaffected that it leaks damning information about the president daily. The Senate majority leader calls him stupid for allowing an affiliated group to run attack ads against Sen. Dean Heller whose vote he needs on healthcare. Other senators come out of meetings expressing amazement at the president’s lack of knowledge and preparation on complicated issues.
Instead of doing his job, Trump spends his time attacking the media for reporting how poorly he is doing his job, gloating that he beat Hillary Clinton, and calling the conclusions of the intelligence services a hoax. And even worse, he contradicts his owns nonsense in his next tweet.
For example, after months of claiming the idea of Russian hacking during the election was a hoax, he blamed President Obama for not doing enough to stop it. This not only revealed that he actually thought the hacking was real, but that in five months as president he, too, has not bothered to do anything to prevent it from happening again.
Similarly, when Trump called the House healthcare bill as “mean,” though he had praised it lavishly a few weeks before, Obama agreed with him. Instead of taking this as an opportunity to seek a bipartisan compromise, Trump accused Obama of plagiarism for using his own personal word — “mean.” This is truly unhinged egomania.
But the Democrats can ill-afford to gloat. They too are guilty of malpractice. When the Republicans create harsh, unworkable, self-destructive legislation, instead of sitting on the sidelines and sniping, the Democrats ought to be presenting calmly and lucidly their superior solutions to the American people. Giving voters a choice, not an insult.
Politics may not always be pretty, but it is how a democracy is supposed to solve problems. And skillful practitioners of “the art of the possible” do just that, they figure out how to build a consensus or engineer a compromise to do the people’s business. Presently, no one seems to care about anything but re-election and tit-for-tat. The first party that demonstrates it does know how to play the game may get a chance to win it.