Shutdown isn’t a stalemate over principles; it’s spiteful vandalism

U.S. Capitol

U.S. Capitol in rainy Washington, Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013. The federal government remains partially shut down and faces the prospect of a first-ever default. (Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo)

Sometimes it’s best just to quote your betters.

Nick Kristof, the great columnist, recently proposed a thought exercise to clarify the federal government shutdown.

Flip the script, he suggested. What if President Obama, frustrated by his inability to to pass gun control bills, announced he had no choice but to scuttle one American aircraft carrier a week in the Pacific Ocean until Congress bent to his will.

That gets at the reckless willingness of Tea Party Republicans to damage the nation’s security to score a political point.

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Now, cue in Jon Stewart, the great satirist, to nail the chutzpah factor. Picture, he said, a professional football team that lost by 24 points on Sunday. Then imagine that on Monday the team demanded it be awarded 25 extra points – and the win – or it would burn down the NFL.

Let me add a third analogy. Suppose one woman shows another a dress pattern she’s devised. The second woman, seeking to please, makes a dress according to the pattern. The first woman declares the dress a “train wreck.” “But I used your pattern,” the second replies. “That may be, but it looks hideous on you,” the first says.

As Kristof notes, the crisis that now risks national default is not some typical “policy stalemate.” It’s an act of spiteful vandalism by radicals behaving with the heedless narcissism of a pack of 13 year olds.

As Stewart notes, we just held a national election on the very issues – fiscal policy and health reform – that are the focus of these toxic maneuvers. In that election, the Republicans got thumped. Trounced. This is sour grapes turned poisonous.

Despite what some TV pundits claim, the Affordable Care Act was not a partisan jam job. Only Democrats voted for it because Republicans refused to support it as a considered strategy of obstruction. Obama sought their support by including in his bill many conservative ideas on health reform. No matter. The Republicans did not engage. They did not seek to improve a law which, ambitious and complex as it was, was bound to have flaws. They now oppose even their own ideas, because they came from the lips of a black Democrat.

This has been behavior of staggering bad faith. And now, for the first time in our history, it threatens the full faith and credit of the United States. It’s appalling.

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