By Ruth Conniff on December 30, 2013

Even as 1.3 million unemployed Americans lost their lifeline this weekend, Republican members of Congress were getting excited that their chances for 2014 look good.

They are seriously deluded.

True, Democrats and Republicans have switched positions in the polls since two months ago, when the government shutdown left the public disgusted and disillusioned with Congress in general and Republican House leadership in particular.

Relentless news about the troubled Obamacare rollout changed that dynamic. Where two months ago Democrats were up in generic polls 50/42, Republicans reversed the trend and climbed to 49/44.

That shift prompted a lot of talk about whether the GOP can manage to tread water and avoid mistakes until November, when they seek to expand their House majority and retake the Senate.

Interestingly, all the movement in the polls toward the Republican side came from men. Women have remained steadfastly more supportive of a generic Democratic candidate: 54 percent two months ago, and a nearly identical 53 percent today.

The Republicans basically have two electoral strategies: convincing fickle male voters that Obamacare is a disaster, and then holding their breath.

Neither is likely to carry them through November.

One problem is that perceptions of healthcare reform won't stay the same for the next 10 months. Problems with the Affordable Care Act website are already fixed, and Obamacare is going to look better and better as more people get health insurance who didn't have it before.

Still, there is hope for the Republicans that they don't look as bad as they did around the time of the shutdown.

John Boehner -- who looked as if he could lose his party's majority and his job as speaker after the tea party insurrection and the shutdown -- appears to have regained enough confidence to yell at rightwing groups who criticized the recent bipartisan budget deal.

In other words, the party looks like less of a mess, for now. As one Republican political strategist advised recently, if they don't screw up by shutting down the government again, or by pushing yet more controversial legislation, perhaps they can stay where they are in the polls, or even pick up critical seats.

However, this too is a vain hope. Congress in general was already getting low marks from the public thanks to House Republicans, and that was before they cut off long-term unemployment benefits. A recent CNN poll showed 3/4ths of the public believe we have a "do-nothing Congress," and 2/3rds call it the worst Congress ever.

Not doing anything is not popular with the public.

The fact that this Congress passed fewer than 60 bills, the lowest number since 1947, is not much of a record to run on.

But the biggest problem for the Republicans in the House is not just do-nothingism: it's the severe pain their party is inflicting on millions of Americans. That pain is beginning to hit hard as of right now.

The shutdown, the sequester, and now the cruel cancellation of unemployment benefits during Christmas hurts many of the same people the Republicans want to court.

As Bernie Sanders recently pointed out, the cuts in unemployment are not just bad for the unemployed: they are a blow to the whole economy.

Talk about bad politics.

Senator Harry Reid has said he will move for an extension of unemployment as a first order of business right after Congress comes back to town from the holiday recess. That will pose an interesting dilemma for Republicans.

Sticking to their austerity plan, Republicans will insist that an extension must be paid for with other cuts, but it's unlikely that they would consider closing tax loopholes for the rich.

Americans United For Change painted a grim picture of the party's 2014 chances with its hard-hitting "Bad Santa" advertisement recently, which points out that the budget bill did not touch tax loopholes for the top 1 percent, even as Congress kicked the unemployed to the curb.

This kind of politics cannot carry the day, no matter how long the Republicans hold their breath.

Photo: "Surviving adversity and managing risk for big business," via Shutterstock.

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Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
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to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
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Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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