Egos, mudslinging, and other juvenile behaviors have always flavored American politics, but in recent years, what little maturity and class could once be found in the public arena seems to have all but disappeared. Washington has come to resemble nothing so much as an endless episode of “Supernanny”: Democrats are the out-of-control children screaming like banshees and carving up the furniture, and Republicans are the mealy-mouthed parents who can’t bring themselves to discipline them for fear of making poor things cry.
Democrat accusations that Republicans hate blacks, Hispanics, gays, and women run rampant. Barack Obama breezily suggests that opponents of his gun-control proposals don’t care about their own children’s safety. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz calls it “un-American to question how the government let Americans die in Benghazi. Nancy Pelosi decries colleagues who disagree with her as “legislative arsonists.” Barbara Boxer says she can imagine no other motive for opposing abortion other than that Republicans “don’t like their moms or their first wives.” According to Alan Grayson (an “outstanding” lawmaker, per Obama), “Republicans want you to die.” Dianne Feinstein huffs that questioning the constitutional basis of her proposed assault-weapons ban is an insult to her 20 years on the Judiciary Committee.
Democrats—or rather, “Demobrats”—suffer from moral arrested development. Like children, their desires reign supreme. Like children, they can imagine no greater injury than to meet their demands with a firm “no.” Like children, they react viscerally to resistance, without a moment’s thought given to civility or fairness. Like children, they try to get their way by simply tiring out their oppressors through hysterics.
And like children, they get away with it because adults let them.
Typically, Republicans either take Demobrat tantrums silently or halfheartedly lament how “unfortunate” or “cynical” they are—that is, when they’re not trying to appease the hellions. For most of the campaign, Mitt Romney characterized Obama as a “nice guy” who was merely “in over his head.” Marco Rubio routinely stresses that he thinks Obama is a good man and liberals love America. John Boehner says he “absolutely” trusts the president, with whom he has “a very good relationship.” Paul Ryan lauds Obama’s desire to “get something done.”
Indeed, on the rare occasion when a Republican shows some nerve, it’s not for long. After famously shouting “you lie!” during Obama’s 2009 State of the Union Address, Rep. Joe Wilson not only apologized for breaching decorum, but also watered down his words’ underlying substance to “I disagree with the President’s statement” (never mind that the claim sparking his outburst, that ObamaCare wouldn’t cover illegal immigrants, was indeed a lie). After the 2013 SOTU, Rep. Bill Shuster said he thought the president was lying about private-sector interest in high-speed rail, only to fold ten hours later: “incendiary rhetoric is not my style…I do not think the president is a liar.” The day after Darrell Issa called Press Secretary Jay Carney the White House’s “paid liar,” John McCain stressed, “I never like to use that word.”
Shockingly, taking the high road has only led Republicans in circles. Lavishing Demobrats with praise and looking the other way when they defame hasn’t done a solitary thing to make them more civil or less petulant; it’s just told them they can get away with it.
The solution for political temper tantrums is the same as for unruly children: find the backbone to impose real consequences. Ensure that emotional intimidation isn’t rewarded with concessions or groveling, but is punished with blunt, highly publicized condemnation. Turn the tables by asking the obvious questions about the integrity of politicians who would stoop so low. Cut the false pleasantries out of all their daily interactions. Ensure their constituents truly know who’s representing them. In short, shame them.
As Republicans struggle to recapture the spirit of Ronald Reagan, they’d do well to try channeling a bit of Jo Frost, too.