Ed Kilgore has a thorough rundown of compelling answers to that recurring question, just what the hell is wrong with these people? Neil Irwin proposes the sunk cost fallacy (no doubt true, to which I would add that people take more risks when they’re losing), John Chait thinks the GOP is defending the general principle of legislative hostage taking, Josh Barro points out that Republicans have to fight harder to overturn the status quo than Democrats have to do to defend it. Getting closer to the ultimate cause Kilgore, and Josh Marshall, point to the remarkably profound apocalyptic mindset that motivates the tea partiers’ suicide wing.
This last point strikes me as the most important. Something moved these people to risk their careers, their party, the country and the global economic system. It seems a little trite to point out that a Heritage plan to expand health insurance coverage does not cut it. Political calculation just cannot explain how frantic these people have become. This is Rosebud territory.
Let’s review the last time a conservative party of inherited privilege based in the South, then known as Southern Democrats, went completely bonkers. In essence you had a class of white men who felt not incorrectly that their comfortable system of racial privilege had begun to an inevitable decline to a legislative and a moral minority. Missouri compromised and Kansas bled specifically to hold off a pro-abolition majority from being seated in the U.S. Senate. Everyone knew that it would happen, that it more or less had to happen, but the possibility scared enough people badly enough to justify some remarkably destructive behavior. It does not feel great to see national progress moving inexorably away from you, to feel that personal qualities one cannot easily disown will rot away to an embarrassment first, then over time to a rancid mark on the family name. That cuts deep. You cannot always separate yourself from the things you say or do. For people like that, people who do not necessarily see themselves as racist or insensitive but cannot seem to express themselves without sounding that way (take that as you will), progress represents a sort of obliteration or, worse, a desecration of the self. Those who can accept their flaws and change will do that, but for the rest (let’s say around 27%) it is not that much of a sacrifice to lay down on the tracks of progress and shout ‘STOP!’.