By now it should be obvious to just about everyone that the Speaker of the Republican House was never going to permit a clean CR come to a vote, no matter what kind of compromise legislation was crafted by the Senate. Having been bitten by the nihilistic zombies that the media still insist on dressing up as the "Tea Party," Boehner is now merely another infected victim, staggering along with the rest of his minions towards the razor wire that will cut them to pieces in the next few days as the magnitude of what they've done dawns on the rest of the American public.
Barring some last-minute miracle we are careening towards default on our nation's credit, a default which will begin (some argue it has already begun) slowly and inexorably on October 17th with some stupendous market gyrations that will give all but the most benumbed most unpleasant spasms of nausea. The real agony will be experienced in the weeks and months that follow as we see the slender threads that held the nation together after the Great Recession begin to fray.
Like the government shutdown, and the sequester before that, this is exactly what many House Republicans want to happen. This is what must happen in order for them to realize their vision of what America should become.
This morning the Republicans had a meeting. According to several sources, they sang the Christian hymn, "Amazing Grace" at the start of the meeting. Picture that for a moment, in all its disquieting glory.
Before pushing an alternative to a Senate bid to end the government shutdown on Tuesday, conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives reportedly sang “Amazing Grace,” a Christian hymn usually reserved for funerals.* * *
According to The Washington Post, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) led the GOP caucus in singing “Amazing Grace.” Southerland has a background in the funeral home business, where he was known for singing hymns at grave sites.I don't think it was the death of their "compromise" bill that prompted this soulful outpouring. I think it was the dim recognition that the razor wire was near. And that they were throwing themselves upon it for the greater good.
As Michael Lynch notes in his Opinionator piece in today's New York Times, conservative writers are now doubling down on the shutdown, suggesting that it be employed constantly, again and again as a bludgeon against government, until what we now know as the United States of America has been beaten into something new and different. He quotes John Tamny of Forbes magazine:
“[S]hutdown [of the U.S. government] should be a part of the G.O.P.’s readily unsheathed arsenal of weapons meant to always be shrinking the size and scope of our economy-asphyxiating federal government.”The asphyxiation metaphor is a good one but it is the Republicans who are attempting it. Asphyxiation is not a quick, dirty way to murder. It allows the perpetrator time to enjoy the spectacle of seeing his victim gasping for life. Lynch takes Tamny--and the Republicans who preach such stuff--at their word:
It is tempting to call this “crazy talk” and unserious bluster. But it is serious, and it shows that some people are thinking about what happens next. It is a plan that represents the logical limit of the views now being entertained on the radical right, not just in the dark corners of the Internet, but in the sunlight of mainstream forums.Lynch then straightforwardly examines the consequences to our Democracy of following this path. The primary casualty in his view is the social contract--the assumption that working together--even as individuals--brings about a greater good overall for the society.
The "social contract" as defined by Thomas Hobbes stems from the basic, human tendency to join together to commit to a common goal. The readiness to make that commitment arises from an unspoken, implicit human acknowledgement that such cooperation is necessary. "Without that common knowledge," Lynch writes, "we won't regard ourselves as being all in this together. That is, once I think that everyone isn't committed, I may stop feeling committed as well."
The very act of shutting down the government (and by extension ignoring the need to pay our debts) fosters this sense of decoupling from the common good. The Republicans don't argue that the government is working improperly--they argue that it shouldn't exist at all. And all the cooperation and mutual sacrifice that goes with it.
But Lynch argues that a more profound, second consequence follows from the abandonment of the social contract.
That second consequence is that the unraveling of our joint commitments isn’t going to end the federal government. What it threatens to do is to alter the remaining democratic fibers of that institution. Shutdowns are a failure of governance, and even short ones weaken the legislative branch, the branch that is most directly linked, as its members like to say, to the will of the people. But there are other branches of government, including of course, the executive branch, and the growing (and increasingly independent) apparatus of the security state. The National Security Agency doesn’t just disappear when the Congress grinds to a halt.And the more dire the situation becomes, the natural desire of the people for a "leader," a "Savior" arises. The natural desire for an authority figure who will sweep away the messy business of Democracy and do what must be done.
The constant vilification and demonization of all things Obama (and to a lesser extent of Bill Clinton who had the advantage of coming to power in a pre-Internet environment) has been a feature of this Presidency from the beginning. Republicans like to claim that Bush was afforded similar treatment, but no Democrat ever advocated eliminating the institution of government even during the darkest excesses of the Bush years. What we now see from the Republican Party is something very poisonous and very new. Lynch recognizes it but dares not speak its name:
In the end, that’s the real danger we are now facing. Not just the shutdown, but the rise of the shutdown strategy. By unraveling the threads of our joint commitment to shared governance, it raises the chances those threads will be rewoven into something else: something deeply, and tragically, undemocratic.Ann Romney recently assured us that had her husband been elected President there would have been no government shutdown, no risk of a catastrophic default on our debt. She's right, but for the wrong reasons. The man who would say anything to get elected would have done the bidding of anyone to stay elected. A tiny minority of Republicans bought and paid for by oil and energy conglomerates with a vicious agenda aimed at the poor, the middle-class, women and all persons of color would have held complete sway. Their behavior at this critical moment in time shows us all what regard they would have had for the rest of us had they held the Executive branch. Forget the social contract--they already abandoned it. They know and respect the power of government, certainly. But the only government they want is one that they control.
And they don't have that control now, so instead they stagger dumbly toward the razor wire. But if the tables were turned, they'd be coming straight at us.