Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Something About the Reaping

What did we sew?!
Don't get me wrong, for the most part I was just as baffled as everyone else about the Tea Party driven government shut down and most recent dance with default. I was also asking how they could see a tax for not buying health insurance in a system designed to make buying health insurance as affordable as possible as a sign of the coming apocalypse, how they could not understand the potential ramifications of an American default on its debts, how they could with a straight face say out loud that Obama and the Democrats had refused to compromise (how are those spending levels looking?), how they could be the driving force of the shut down and parade themselves in front of federal monuments thus shut down, etc., etc., etc.

What I am about to say should not be construed as in any way suggesting for a second, that there was a shred of rationale behind the shut down. But, we should have seen this nonsense coming a mile away.

Remember how the Tea Party came to its level of power in American politics. The 2010 election happened after a coordinated two-year campaign of misinformation and outright lies about the content of the President's character and the nature of his policies. The public was told he was not a U.S. citizen, that he was a secret Muslim, that he was coming for your guns and your bibles. They were told he hated America, that he hated freedom, that he wanted to turn us into Europe. They were told to fear sharia law. They were told he was waging a war on Christianity, on the heteronormative family, on, I don't know, apple pie and chicken and waffles. It was a fairly mainstream smear campaign against the sitting President of the United States of America and the spear point of this attack was Obamacare.

While the President and Congressional Democrats were busy crafting an extremely complex, fairly conservative overhaul of a health care system in which you could go bankrupt from getting cancer, Republicans and Fox News were busy telling the public Obamacare was a ploy to kill your grandparents and fill your daughters with birth control. Republicans saw the somewhat reasonable public confusion around Obamacare, and rather than, I don't know, engaging in a rational debate about the shortcomings of market based health care or the specifics of the legislation itself, spent their time shouting that Obamacare was socialism, that it was the end of freedom, that it was tyranny, that it represented the death of the United States of America.

Republicans saw an electoral opportunity; a chance to de-legitimize one of the most popular campaign platforms in recent memory and they took it. They threw the equivalent of a tantrum in the legislature. They flat out lied to the media. The media, for the most part, did not refute the lies, and, leveraging the unease the country still felt about the economy, the still fairly verdant forest of racism, and the standard issue persecution complex of conservative Christians, Republicans orchestrated a historic power shift in the House of Representatives and in state legislatures. The Tea Party was not, strictly, a Republican creation, but Republicans were more than happy to use them as a way to return to a fair amount of legislative power.

As a pretty obvious consequence, about 30 people were elected who actually believe Obamacare represents the end of America. To pose a somewhat delicate question: what the fuck did mainstream Republicans think was going to happen? They spent two years telling the country Obama was the devil. Obviously, they would end up with a few elected officials with little Rs next to their names who believe that Obama is the devil.

The shut down and threatened default were pretty natural consequences of the 2010 Republican campaign strategy. We all have reaped, what they sowed.

The interesting question now is, what happens in a couple months when the funding runs out again and the debt ceiling looms again? I'm sure the Tea Party members in the house are willing to shut down the government and risk default again, especially if Democrats try to act like Democrats in the coming budget negotiations (which the Senate has been asking for) but are more moderate mainstream Republicans? And if they're not, how are they going to ensure their party doesn't look ridiculous again? Are they willing to risk losing seats to disavow the policies and tactics of the Tea Party? And exactly how much are Democrats willing to help Boehner and the mainstream Republicans save face, especially given the total dick press release Boehner put out about the compromise spending bill? (And, you know, the five plus years of general legislative dickishness.)

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this entire debacle, is how it probably won't matter all that much in the 2014 elections. Since our media is utterly incapable of providing historic context for the issues at hand, the election will most likely be decided by A. A major change in the employment rate one way or the other in October B. a major change in the cost of healthcare one way or the other in October, or C. Some weird October shit that isn't particularly relevant to the issues at hand, but still has emotional relevance. For a moment though, the vast majority of the country saw the Tea Party Republicans for what they are; shortsighted, dogmatic, ideologues with no ability to see beyond their one or two primary goals. Let's just hope we can remember that in November 2014.

All political systems have flaws. No matter how well planned, how inherently stable, how just a system might be, situations can arise that put stress on the seams of the system. There are a lot of flaws in the current two-party incarnation of American politics, but, for the most part, until now the stress has not been felt by the system itself, but by the less powerful (i.e. just about everybody) with varying degrees of tolerability. But the Republican Party, since they pledged to make Obama a one-term president and reaching a kind of crescendo with the most recent shut down are putting stress on the seams of our manner of government. For the most part it has been in the Senate through filibusters and anonymous holds, but now they've shown that, limiting choice to A and B, allows A and/or B immense of amounts of power, regardless of how many voters they actually represent. Perhaps the biggest mistake the Democrats, Harry Reid and Barack Obama in particular, is to continue to believe in the strength of the political system. Over the last five years, both of them (though Reid more definitively) have had opportunities to use different legislative and negotiating techniques, but because they believe the system itself is so strong, five years after one of the most decisive Democrat swings in recent memory, and one year after a public repudiation of many of the key planks of the Republican platform we have an austerity Republican government that can't even effectively legislate for the benefit of the 1% they so often shill for.

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