VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – I’m sitting in a bar in Nanaimo, British Columbia Canada waiting for my car to be serviced. While I nurse a carafe of red wine, I can’t help but reflect upon the failure of the failure of the political system of the United States of America. As of midnight last night, the government of the United States was shut down by a small, vocal faction of extreme right wing ideologues within the Republican Party.
Although the shutdown is ostensibly a result of a dispute over the implementation of President Obama’s signature piece of legislation, The Affordable Care Act, it’s important to recognise the real motivations behind this utterly irresponsible act of political vandalism by a group of freshman Representatives; it is a combination of overweening egos, a stated anti-government dogma, disdain and contempt for the people of their country, and sheer, blind ignorance. The Affordable Care Act – Obamacare, if you will – is what Alfred Hitchcock called a “McGuffin”; it is the thing all the fuss is about, but which, in reality, is in fact interchangeable with any other motivating factor. It could be nuclear secrets, a key, a cipher, or anything else to get the action rolling. In the case of the Republicans it could be the debt, the deficit, drones, or, the one they’re using today, Obamacare.
Simpler than the justification, however, is the truth: they don’t believe in government and they want to see an end to it in their own country, so they’re working from within to ensure its failure. That their views are uneducated, ignorant, and puerile should go without saying. That they are anti-democratic, even treasonous, is clearer still. Nevertheless, it needs to be said, and light needs to be shed upon their failures as leaders of a democracy.
Their views being uneducated and ignorant is a simple observation based upon even the most cursory examination of history and the civics texts that they obviously never opened in their academic careers. They are ideologically opposed to the very notion of government. That posture ignores the obvious historical reality that, from the earliest chapters in the saga of the human race, even before recorded history, it was some form of cooperative action that propelled social development. Before humans created the most rudimentary forms of government – social cooperation – life was, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “solitary poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” It is to that idyllic condition that the ignorant ideologues in Congress aspire by striving to eliminate that which allowed us to rise above it – “covenants”, in Hobbesian terminology; government, in ours.
The puerility of their views is evidenced by their inability to see beyond the most simplistic understanding of the function of government; ironic because while they insist on government’s superfluity, and inability to create the jobs they pretend to care about, their own jobs are government jobs, and they don’t mind cashing their government issued paychecks. Their views are puerile because they want something – reduced, preferably eliminated government – and they can’t see beyond that to the implications of having their wishes granted. Their views are puerile because their reaction to seeing their ideas rejected, in two general elections and more than forty separate votes in Congress, is to stamp their feet, repeat their demands, and hold their breaths (and the public’s) until they turn blue.
All of that is fairly obvious and most people get it. One suspects that even those who agree with the idea of smaller government, who don’t want their fellow citizens to have access to health care, and who hate their president get it, too. But the Republicans have long ago drawn a line in the sand and the political landscape has become a warzone in which the idea of compromise is considered to be craven, negotiation is an admission of failure, hearing the other side’s views is to support them, and the slightest concession is abject defeat. Consequently, for the Republicans who have completely caved in to the extremism of their Tea Party nutjobs, politics is a zero sum game to be engaged upon in an all out, take no prisoners, scorched earth war.
The outrageous nature of this extraordinary action seems to be lost as the politics of polarisation have become the new normal. But we shouldn’t forget that the idea of blackmailing the President to force him to repeal, emasculate or delay something that is US law is a completely unprecedented demand. The Republicans have failed time and again to defeat the Affordable Care Act through democratic processes. Now they have shut down the government and threaten to keep it shut down until the President breaks the law. Although the government could be brought back to work with a simple up-or-down vote to do so, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, refuses to bring any vote to fund the government to the floor unless it is tied to a resolution to defund the law.
This action, of course, could be taken with any law the Republicans want enacted, or want repealed. It could be a gun law, a tax law, or any other hobby horse they choose. The Mcguffin could be anything. The fact is they wield this weapon to attempt to enforce their will despite the democratic process having been tried unsuccessfully scores of times. The people have spoken, the process was employed, and the law is the law of the land. But now they are bent on pushing their agenda despite the democratic process and the expressed wishes of the people of the United States.
It remains to be seen how this will play out. But as long as white collared terrorists have taken over the US government, the President is to be commended for refusing to back down to their demands. If he were to give in and let the people’s legislation die because of the extortion practiced by the Republicans, they will certainly do it again. They will do it for every piece of legislation they wish enacted despite its rejection by the people of the country and they will do it to repeal every law that doesn’t suit their Neanderthal view of society. Once you cave in to blackmailers, you legitimise their methods.
It might be worth remembering that had this anti-democratic anarchy been tried in some other countries, the remaining government would exercise its power and arrest the terrorists and charge them with treason for their betrayal of their offices. There are many Americans who would love to see that happen to John Boehner and would derive great enjoyment watching his trial and would buy tickets to his execution. Many of the people who will die from an inability to access essential government services will have surviving family members demanding just that.
That’s not going to happen, but you can be sure that there are White House lawyers and political advisors looking into drawing up articles of impeachment for Boehner and the cabal of Tea Party Congressmen who are wreaking this devastation on the country they were sworn to protect.