Monday, September 30, 2013

Shutdown showdown: The Republicans' "doomed spasms"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

So here we are. On the verge of a government shutdown. Which is to say, a shutdown of the U.S. federal government.

Yes, the federal government of the most powerful country in the world, a country that prides itself, delusionally, on its grandiose historic exceptionalism, a country that rants and raves about how it's supposedly the greatest country in the world, a bastion of liberty and democracy, is about to be shut down because its federal legislative branch, Congress, is apparently incapable of contributing to the governing of the country, and essentially of fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities.

But let's be more precise. It's about to be shut down not just because the system reduces the country to governmental paralysis but specifically because the opposition party is allowing it to happen, and indeed wants it to happen, or at least enough of its members to matter do -- an opposition party with enough clout, given its majority status in the House of Representatives, to make it happen.

And right now it's all because of Obamacare. (I wrote about this the other day.) Yes, Republicans so hate the new health-care law that they're willing to do whatever it takes to block its implementation, whether it's shut down the government or force the country to default on its debts, in the latter case perhaps triggering global economic armageddon.

The rational calculation, given the popularity of the law (and of the president and party behind it) as well as the unpopularity of government shutdowns, is realize that they don't have any real leverage and to concede defeat. But these are Republicans we're talking about. Thinking rationally just isn't what they're about these days. (A separate rational calculation is that the new system will become so popular, and that Democrat will forever be credited for it at the polls, that it's best to try to stop it, or at least delay it, now. But it's still hard to see how they can win this standoff in any meaningful way. Ultimately, they'll be blamed for the shutdown and in any event Obamacare will be implemented.) And so they plow ahead with their far-right ideological agenda, Ted Cruz leading the way, doomed.

Some on the right know it. Fewer are willing to admit it. Like renegade Republican (and Canadian) David Frum, who argues that the various happy endings envisioned by Republicans are unlikely. He goes on to explain why they're doing it anyway:

All in all, it's hard to see any positive outcome emerging for Republicans from this confrontation. Yet the party is charging forward anyway. Why?

The short answer is a breakdown in the party's ability to govern itself. It can't think strategically. Even when pressed to do something overwhelmingly likely to end in disaster, as this shutdown looks likely to do for Republicans, the party has no way to stop itself. It stumbles into fights it cannot win, gets mad, and then in its anger lurches into yet another fight that ends in yet another loss.

Republicans who want to fight smarter are called squishes; Republicans who wish to fight less are called RINOs -- and both have been hunted pretty near to extinction. Instead of effective opposition, we see those doomed spasms. And out of these spasms, Obamacare looks sturdier than ever -- and any hope of negotiating to fix its worst elements seemingly further out of reach than ever.

Frum and I disagree over Obamacare's "worst elements," given that I'm a proponent of single-payer, but otherwise he's right about this. The Republican Party, moving ever further to the right, embracing ever more extremist positions, has lost control of itself as a political party with any justifiable claim to govern within the mainstream of American life.

And if Frum has been paying any attention, he'll know that there's nothing surprising about this at all. This is just part of the ongoing Republican reductio ad absurdum that has been underway for a long, long time. And now, succumbing to their spasms, they'll take the country down with them.

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