The Commander-in-Chief was in no mood to dance when he declared, on Monday, “One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election.”
Indeed, he roared, “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job.”
The observation was, at once, brilliantly conceived and utterly incorrect.
At the stroke of midnight, despite Barack Obama’s imprecations, the U.S. government did shut down (everything but essential services, such as the army, energy grid and air traffic control) because a mewling bunch of far-right-wing crybabies in the Republican Party can’t take no for an answer.
Even so, the journey to ignominy is not yet over.
On October 17, Congress faces another battle, the consequences of which could be far worse than this present contretemps over the government’s spending authority: whether or not to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Not doing so would inevitably lead to the United States defaulting, for the first time in its history, on its financial obligations.
Canadians might be amused to imagine that this begins and ends with health care reform, also known as “Obamacare”. Simply put, Republican tea party Representatives despise it and will do everything in their power to “defund” it.
They don’t have a chance, as the most important bits of the new law have already passed in Congress and been endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court. But that’s not stopping this bunch – the most bloody-minded cohort of rank politicians in modern times. As Michael Gerson, an opinion writer for The Washington Post, observes, “Few believe any longer that Republicans will be able to defund Obamacare in this session of Congress; it is the fight that counts. This is a word that crops up frequently in tea-party discourse. Not winning. Not strategy. Not consequences. The fight.”
In fact, this is where the rubber truly hits the road, and where Canadians will want to stifle their giggles. The conflict is only titularly about Obamacare. At its roots is a fundamentally radical conception of government, itself – one that’s counterpoised to mainstream Democratic and Republican political values; one that actually finds little purchase on most main streets of America.
Teaparty.org articulates its “15 non-negotiable core beliefs” thusly:
“Illegal aliens are here illegally; pro-domestic employment is indispensable; a strong military is essential; special interests must be eliminated; gun ownership is sacred; government must be downsized; the national budget must be balanced; deficit spending must end; bailout and stimulus plans are illegal; reducing personal income taxes is a must; reducing business income taxes is mandatory; political offices must be available to average citizens; intrusive government must be stopped; english as our core language is required; and traditional family values are encouraged.”
There’s nothing especially alarming to a “liberal” mind about most of this creed. But, it is in the practice of it – the widely varied interpretation of it – when trouble brews.
As often as not, tea partiers view capitalism not as an economic system, but as an ethical imperative and to justify their position they love quoting Ayn Rand, who wrote, in 1962, “The world crisis of today is a moral crisis – and nothing less than a moral revolution can resolve it: a moral revolution to sanction and complete the political achievement of the American revolution. We must fight for capitalism, not as a practical issue, not as an economic issue, but, with the most righteous pride, as a moral issue. That is what capitalism deserves, and nothing less will save it.”
In this conception of the cosmos, government – which, by its function, takes and distributes wealth to provide for the common interest – is a dangerously corruptible institution and must be stripped of most of its power to do harm (i.e. spending).
Such hardline thinking precludes any possibility of negotiating with mainstream or traditional politicians. It also suggests that a dysfunctional Congress will only hinder the administration of foreign diplomacy and economic policy.
Ultimately, when the U.S. pays a ransom to the tea party, at least some of the cost will be born by its trading partners, including Canada.