Shutdown follies: A food fight on the Republican right


    With the foreseeable threat of a new war fast receding, we can safely return to our perpetual crisis of governance – to the intramural Republican war between the reality-based pragmatists and the extremists whose hatred of Obamacare borders on clinical insanity.

    The government is due to shut down 15 days from now unless Congress agrees to pass a new budget, or at least something temporary. In normal times, lawmakers would find a way to compromise, but the new normal is all about brinksmanship. A sizeable cadre of Republican extremists are determined to shut off the lights unless President Obama and the Democratic Senate summarily surrender on Obamacare by agreeing to defund or delay it. These people are delusional (health reform is now the law of the land); more importantly, they’re at war with their own party leaders – and vice versa. Suffice it to say that he ongoing exchange of insults (lately there have been some doozies) is not conducive to party unity.

    I always tell my journalistic-writing students that when the characters’ dialogue is vivid, just get out of the way and let the dialogue drive the narrative. So whenever possible today, I’m getting out of the way.

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    Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer last Thursday, rebuking the extremists on Fox News: “You cannot govern from one part of one-half of the Congress. The (health reform) law passed. They’re two years late…Obama controls the veto…The only out is for these people to realize that they’re a suicide caucus.”

    Speaker John Boehner, speaking with reporters last week about his inability to get the extremists to compromise and thus avoid a government shutdown: “Do you have an idea (I can use)? They’ll just shoot it down anyway.”

    Conservative commentator Brit Hume yesterday, rebuking the extremists on Fox News: “(A) government shutdown as a way of forcing policy, when you only control one house of the legislature, is a loser.” The public blamed the GOP for the government shutdown of 1995, and the blame would be worse if it happened now: “The Republican party is in much worse favor with the public than it was in 1995, when people had just installed a new House Republican majority for the first time in decades.” The current shutdown strategy “is a very risky proposition.”

    A senior Republican aide on Capitol Hill, interviewed by the Roll Call newspaper, rebuked the extremists: “(The shutdown threat) is part of a pattern of pushing untenable demands that have no chance…(The extremists) are slowly becoming irrelevant Neanderthals.”

    Suicide caucusNeanderthals…These folks sure know how to insult each other. But actually, the extremists – mostly tea-party types, elected in 2010 and 2012 – are quite relevant, especially in the House, where they’re already gumming up the machinery. Boehner tried to thread the needle last week with a compromise idea – put the House on record (again) in favor of defunding Obamacare, then let the Democratic Senate kill the defund provision and pass something to keep the government open – but the radical wing of Boehner’s caucus doesn’t do compromise. Ergo, he didn’t have enough Republican votes to get his compromise OK’d. So it died. As his aformentioned quip to reporters makes clear, he currently has no plan B.

    Hume was right to characterize the extremists’ stance as “risky,” because polls show that Republicans would indeed get the brunt of the blame if the government is shut down. According to the latest CNN-sponsored survey, 51 percent of Americans would fault the GOP; 33 percent, Obama. The numbers would be worse if Republicans (prompted by their extremists) threaten this fall to drive America into default, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless Obamacare is defunded. If default happens, 54 percent would fault the GOP; only 25 percent, Obama.

    In a sense, the extremists’ panic is understandable. Oct. 1 marks the opening of the Obamacare health exchanges – which will create a private-sector market for Americans who can’t get health insurance on the job. (This market concept waas pioneered by Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts program.) The government will subsidize many of the Americans who need help to buy the coverage. In other words, once the program is up and running, and once people realize they’re getting helped, Republicans are rightly terrified of being on the wrong side of history. Conservative journalist Byron York has basically acknowledged this: “Once those payments begin, repealing Obamacare will no longer be an abstract question…Instead, it will be a very real matter of taking money away from people. It’s very, very hard to do that.”

    Hence, the last desperate attempt to stop history in its tracks, even if it means a government shutdown or a debt default. Hence, the extremist insults that are currently being hurled at reality-based Republicans. I promised to get out of the way, so here’s a scholarly sampling, from the comment board on the right-wing Breitbart News website:

    “Looks like nancy boy Boehner and the rest of the establishment shills are going to stick the knife in our backs again.”

    “Obamacare is now Boehnercare.”

    “Boehner has the rare combination of an oyster’s spine and a gnat’s neo-cortex.”

    “Will the House GOP members please stand up and depose the drunken weeper?”

    “Not one dime to a republican until they fight the fight against Obamacare. Let’s vote out every commie!”

    And a rare post from a pragmatist: “All those criticizing Rep. Boehner know NOTHING about politics, democracy, deliberation, bipartisanship. As a bedrock conservative Republican, I can safely say you people are obstinate, recalcitrant morons.”

    Well. I won’t try to top that one.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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