Who’s to blame for the shutdown?

John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri

“DEAR COLUMNIST: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say the government shutdown will last a long time, America will default on its debt and our economy and the world economy will nosedive. They say conservative Republicans are bullying the American political system and economy in way that doesn’t fit with how democracy is defined in my history books. My father says President Barack Obama and the Democrats started it and want the government shut down and a default. Papa says ‘If you see it on Fox News, read it on a conservative website, or if Rush Limbaugh says it must be so.’ My uncle says some Republicans are Republicans in name only these days and are grieving for what has happened to their party.

“Please tell me the truth: who’s to blame, will America go down the tubes, and is this the same Republican Party I read about in the history books that gave us Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and others?

“P.S. My friends and Eddie who’s five can’t believe grown-ups can be so immature.

“VIRGINIA EDNA SNODGRASS SCHMIDLAP, III, 285 Blizzard Street.”

Virginia, in my gut I’m convinced your little friends are wrong and that America will not default. Since you’ve read history, you know that underneath our partisanship, ideologies and divisions, Americans have above all been patriots who won’t sacrifice the national good and destroy our majority rule system for ideological gain.

But your friends are also correct: the current crisis was engineered by no-compromise Tea Party and fearful House Republicans, name recognition-seeking and donation-seeking politicians, talk show hosts who carve out audience share and deliver the demographic to advertisers, and some (but not all) conservative pundits.

When you get older you’ll read “Democracy in America,” written in the mid-1800s by French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville who warned of both Tyranny of the Majority and Tyranny of the Minority. Republican President William McKinley warned us about what we’re seeing now: “The tyranny of the minority is infinitely more odious and intolerable and more to be feared than that of the majority.” Our traditional political system is being tested.

We’re also learning this shutdown maneuver didn’t happen spontaneously. It turns out that right after Obama was elected some conservative Republicans planned to use a shutdown to try and defund “Obamacare.” They created talking points (later used by GOPers in Congress) on how to frame the shutdown argument and then pumped money into the defunding campaign effort. Deja vu: some GOPers in January 2009 laid plans to oppose Obama at every move before Obama had even been sworn in. Deja vu: it turned out that the early, big Tea Party rallies were aided by big bucks from conservative businessmen millionaires.

Your Dad is wrong about Fox News and the conservative entertainment media. The most notable characteristic of 21st century America is the partisan belief that if you repeatedly state a non-fact it becomes fact. The United States has had “truthers,” “birthers,” and now we have Republican “debit limit deniers” who insist a debt default is no big deal. Republican Rep. John Yoho said a default “would bring stability to world markets.”

The National Journal’s Charlie Cook writes “…[Y]ou would be quite believable if you were to suggest that the GOP has been making an active, masochistic effort to isolate itself from moderate, independent, and swing voters, further exacerbating all the problems with target constituencies that cost Mitt Romney the presidency and the GOP a national popular House vote victory.”

Today’s Republican Party is NOT the same as it was even 10 ago. It is now dominated by a powerful, no-compromise, far-right segment ready to purge those “going moderate” and jettison accepted democratic norms to achieve via power politics what it couldn’t achieve in elections or legal rulings. People who 10 years ago would have disgustedly rejected some of what they say and do are supporting what they say and do now because it’s their political team. A political party holding our economy hostage is new.

Copyright 2013 Joe Gandelman. This weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

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  • SteveK

    Thank you Joe… That was right (middle actually) on the money, Happy Holidays folks.

  • Today

    I try to remind myself that the Democrats are no better than the Republicans, but, the Republicans are currently SO caved in. They remind of the person who becomes so confused and frustrated that they throw a tantrum that disrupts everybody.

  • petew

    Thanks Joe,

    A wonderful variation on the letter written by a journalist to assure a young girl, that despite all appearances, Santa claus does really exist—but with one major difference—the truth that is being denied by Republicans, is a twist and spin of actual facts which are happening in the real world, not just an ideal belief (although a good one) that is being ignored.

    It would be great if 8 year old kids had the ability to think critically and not automatically accept their parent’s dogma, but, wherever such dogma may originate, by that age it is already too late to spare children from being ideologically molded (either to the left or the right). And, unfortunately too many adults have swallowed the hogwash of conservative pundits like Rush Limbaugh who is armed with delusional talking points by a piece of work like Karl Rove. But this time, even Rove has counseled his fellow Republicans against the foolishness of a government shutdown!

    Probably the best thing emerging from this whole political travesty, might be that many Americans will finally understand what the GOP is all about—not the fairly reasonable GOP which has sometimes made public appearance in the past—but the new GOP which is being held hostage by a small group of Tea Party idiots who don’t really understand the principles at play in a Democracy.

    It’s my sincere hope that Virginias of the future, never have to witness the utter stupidity that’s happening today at the hands of a rogue political minority, composed primarily of political greenhorns, who,unfortunately, are effectively obstructing the direction of legislation and thwarting the will of the vast majority of Americans who disagree with them. Personally though, I feel like such a major distortion of reality will have to collapse beneath its own weight eventually!

    One of your best posts Joe,
    thanks

  • slamfu

    I wish we lived in a country where only an 8 year old would be in doubt about who’s to blame here.

  • The_Ohioan

    The Republican Party may not be the same as it was 10 years ago, but there has been little change in Republican voters. True, where there were 59 million that voted for Sarah Palin, there were only 56 million that voted for Paul Ryan.

    That trend may be encouraging, but is certainly not enough to return the Republican party to that of Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower, though those Republican voters may still think they are voting for that long ago party.

    Not sure what could convince them that things have definitely changed; if the 2008 meltdown didn’t, the 2013 super meltdown, should it occur, probably won’t either. It’s a mystery.

  • JSpencer

    Well done Joe. I’d love to see Virginia’s letter and response displayed prominently in every major American newspaper.

  • SteveK

    I’d love to see Virginia’s letter and response displayed prominently in every major American newspaper.

    That would be a real Miracle on 34th Street.