Last week, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Josh Wander, the Republican running for mayor of Pittsburgh, had sold his home and was living in Israel, working as a security consultant. Wander, who says he's renting a Pittsburgh residence and is still in the race, responded to the story with a bunch of Republican-type statements about not being a career politician.
Lots of people made fun of him, me included. But now I'm wishing more Republicans followed his example. Because when the voters probably aren't on your side, backing away can be the better part of valor.
As I write this on Monday afternoon, it's not clear whether Republicans intend to let us have a functioning federal government. They have instead refused to pass a budget unless Democrats agree to delay President Obama's health-care reforms, which Republicans hate. If no budget is passed, countless government services will be shut down immediately, ranging from the closure of national parks and regulatory agencies to the halting of passport applications. (Imagine Josh Wander still residing in Pittsburgh because of passport headaches, and you start to see how much suffering even small disruptions can inflict on the public.)
Even if a budget does get passed, there'll likely be another crisis soon, when Republicans may try to thwart an increase in the federal debt limit. Having failed to win the game the old-fashioned way — by getting more votes than the other party — the GOP is now threatening to pick up its ball and go home.
It would be one thing if Western Pennsylvania's three Republican Congressman followed Wander's example by slinking away quietly. But even as they vote for a shutdown, they insist they're trying to avoid it.
The Republican legislation, House Joint Resolution 59, funds government only if Democrats agree to delay the health-care reforms for a year. The GOP also offered a provision ensuring that military personnel will continue to receive paychecks even if Democrats refuse to give in to the GOP's legislative extortion.
Congressman Keith Rothfus announced his vote with a press release whose headline asserted "Rothfus Votes to Prevent Shutdown [and] Protect Servicemember Pay." Fellow Tea Party fave Mike Kelly issued a release characterizing his vote as an effort to "Fund Government, Support Troops, & Protect Americans from Obamacare."
"Support for our troops should never be a casualty of this president's stubbornness," Kelly's statement contended.
So there you have it. Rothfus and Co. portray themselves as "protecting" the troops without mentioning that their tactics are what threatened their pay to begin with. And while holding government hostage after their other efforts to thwart Obamacare failed, Republicans accuse Obama of being stubborn.
(Suburban Republican Tim Murphy also voted for the bill, though his release was merely headlined "Murphy votes YES on H.J. Res 59" — showing the charisma that has been the hallmark of his career.)
Ordinarily, this would be the part of the column where we concede that not all Republicans are mouthbreathers. Over in eastern Pennsylvania, for example, Rep. Charlie Dent is garnering national coverage for suggesting that "It's time to govern." Sometimes Murphy himself votes for things like funding health insurance for low-income children.
But who cares? Practically speaking, there's no such thing as voting for a moderate Republican.
It's not that there are no Republicans with moderate politics. But voting for them merely enables John Boehner, Eric Cantor and their legion of winged monkeys. Even if "moderates" stop this crisis, history suggests the GOP will just engineer another.
That all seems obvious, but it's a hard lesson for some. Take the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Sept. 24 editorial about Republican intransigence, which lamented, "So far, there has been no retribution from voters." Funnily enough, though, the editorial didn't mention the way it has helped shield Republicans from voters' wrath ... by doing things like endorsing Murphy in 2012.
When it comes to politics in our own backyard, we'd all like to be above mere partisanship. Anyway, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has proven you can govern Pittsburgh in absentia; why can't Josh Wander campaign the same way? Why can't we look past party labels?
Because we can no longer afford to let Republicans anywhere near the levers of power. After all, not all of us can relocate overseas.