What Have We Wrought? Voters Reward Bad Behavior

I have three children: Grant (age 7), Eleanor (age 4), and Dexter (age 3). As I believe most of my friends and family would attest to, my children are very well-behaved. It is something in which I take a fair amount of pride.

From 2001 to 2005, before I had my own children, I taught middle school Social Studies. During that four-year span, I prided myself on having, if not the most well-behaved classes in the school, certainly some of the best-behaved classes in the school.

My formula for teaching and raising well-mannered children is simple. When I observe a child acting out in a negative way, I ask myself what the child hopes to gain by acting out in this manner, and I respond by giving them the opposite of what they want. For example, if my child is whining because I didn’t give him a big enough piece of cake, I cut the piece he has in half. If a student in my class started packing up while I was still instructing so he could get out the door the second the bell rang (a huge pet peeve of mine), I would make him sit in his desk until every student had first exited the class. While this may sound harsh to some, the result is polite, well-behaved children. Further, once clear expectations are set, disciplining becomes fairly infrequent, but I digress.

This type of approach to parenting and teaching is not unique, new, or at all creative. I don’t profess to be the only parent or teacher to do this, but it amazes how many people do the opposite. For example, have you ever seen a parent tell his or her a child he cannot have a certain object, the child then throws a temper tantrum, and the parent responds by relenting and providing the child with the desired object? We have all seen this and probably rolled our eyes. What that parent does not seem to grasp, but you probably do, is that a lesson has just been taught to the child: If I throw a temper tantrum, I get what I want. That parent can certainly count on experiencing more temper tantrums.

I mention all of this because this nation has just acted like the above parent giving in to an ill-behaved child, and thereby encouraging future bad behavior.

Since President Obama was elected president, Congressional Republicans have made it their number one priority to prevent the enactment of any meaningful laws—even laws they supported such as immigration reform. This is not a secret or conspiracy theory. Republicans openly admit this.

Congressional obstruction was carried out not so much because Republicans disagreed with the proposed laws (although often times they did), but because they did not want President Obama to receive credit for doing anything useful for the country. Republicans remembered what happened after 1994 when President Clinton and Congressional Republicans led by Newt Gingrich passed a lot of bipartisan pieces of legislation. The American people liked it and rewarded the president’s party in the 1996 and 1998 elections. Republicans in 2008 were not going to repeat this “mistake.” And true to their word, Republicans have effectively shut down the legislative branch for the past four years and rendered the government ineffective.

The problem for the American people is that Tuesday’s election rewarded this behavior. It affirmed the Republican’s theory—i.e., If we work with the President to pass bipartisan legislation to help the country, we lose elections. But if we stop the government from doing anything meaningful while the other party controls the White House, we get to paint the president as ineffective and we win elections.

Based on the lesson the voters have just taught Congressional Republicans, what incentive do Republicans in Congress have to work with President Obama to get anything accomplished? And what do you think will happen in two years if Republicans retain control of at least one chamber of Congress and another Democrat wins the White House (a very likely scenario)? You guessed, it: obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. While perhaps such a plan is unpatriotic, or perhaps even treasonous, you can’t say it’s not rationale. Thanks American voters. <rolling eyes>

– Dylan

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