The New Civil War:How the Republicans Stole Washington
Like most sentient Americans, I hoped–and because I do this, prayed–there would be no government shutdown. But there was. When Twitter blew up at midnight Monday, I was among the millions venting my anger at the Republican horde that shut down the government.
I’m stunned by the sheer awfulness of some in Washington. And by some, I mean the extremist wing of the Republican Party which has taken the entire nation hostage to its inability to grasp the concept of three branches of government, the meaning of elections and public duty to the citizenry.
I used to play sports both at school and after. Team effort is how one wins a game. We’ve all watched rookie and rogue players act as if they didn’t need the team–that the game was all about them. And we’ve seen the disastrous results.
Rep. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is one of those. A far-right extremist of the sort that would give the Taliban pause, he’s leading a pack of what can only be termed feral secessionists who want to run from that pesky little document written here in Philadelphia a few hundred years ago–the Constitution.
I wish Cruz had been reading from that instead of Dr. Seuss when he staged his little performance piece last week on the floor of the House of Representatives. Maybe if he’d read the Constitution over and over again in the 14 hours he was stalling a budget bill to keep the government running, some of it would have sunk in and he’d have had the good grace to be ashamed by his behavior and not obstruct our government after all.
But that didn’t happen. Republicans have no shame.
So now we have the first government shutdown in 17 years–a shutdown orchestrated and led by Cruz and which the titular head of his party, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), was powerless to stop–if indeed he actually wanted to, as he claimed prior to the stroke of midnight, Sept. 30th.
People on both sides of the aisle talk about government gridlock and Washington being broken and a host of other trite truisms and platitudes we’ve been hearing rehearsed and re-hashed for decades.
Of course Washington has been way worse than now. So much worse that the Union almost didn’t survive. This nation fought a Civil War for 4 years, 3 weeks and 6 days that killed 750,000 soldiers and wounded another half million. The war killed 20 percent of all American males between the ages of 18 and 45.
Take that in for a moment. That’s what can happen when ideologues take hold of government.
Now, back to the current problems in Washington.
It’s not a Civil War. It’s a skirmish. But there are some disturbing similarities. One problem in the lead-in to the Civil War was large segments of the country considered Abraham Lincoln to be an illegitimate president.
Lincoln carried 17 states and had a popular vote of 1,865,908. But the other three candidates–Stephen Douglas, John Bell and John Breckenridge had a combined total of 2,819,122 popular votes and carried 15 states.
That was a nation torn in half with an elected president whom only 39 percent of voters had chosen and 61 percent had voted against.
Fast forward to now. The Republican Party is simmering the way the South was in 1860. Republicans believe the president is illegitimate, that he’s not really America’s leader. Or that he’s not the leader of all America, that maybe because he’s biracial, he only cares about people of color.
And so, like Lincoln, that half of the country represented by the Republican Party views Obama as illegitimate.
Except, if one reads that pesky Constitution, Barack Obama is the president, just as Lincoln was, except actually far more clearly defined.
In 2008, Obama carried 28 states and 52.9% of the vote. In 2012 he carried 26 states and 51.1% of the vote. Close, but clear. In 2008, Obama had 9 million more votes than Sen. John McCain and in 2012 he had just under 5 million more votes than Gov. Mitt Romney.
In short, Obama is president. Duly elected. Both elections were decided quickly; there was no reprise of 2000 when there was an actual question of true legitimacy, where George Bush lost the popular vote and the U.S. Supreme Court decided the winner by just one vote. No, in both 2008 and 2012, Obama won–definitively.
Yet some Republicans have never accepted that fact. Among those most vociferously anti-Obama have been Tea Party Republican extremists like Cruz. They claimed Obama was a Muslim aligned with Islamist radicals. He’s neither Muslim, nor aligned with terrorists. When that ploy failed, Tea Partiers started a “birther” movement in which they claimed Obama wasn’t an American citizen. He is. When the Tea Party failed at their birther invention, they focused on the Affordable Care Act–deeming it Obamacare. Because there was nothing else they could attack.
One problem for Republicans throughout the Obama Administration is President Obama has embraced and continued every policy established by the Bush Administration that candidate Obama promised to vitiate. So while there has been much for Democrats and Progressives like myself to complain about with regard to Obama, there’s really been just this one actual issue for the Republicans to focus on: health care reform.
They’ve gone after it like a dog with a bone. Or a drowning man after a life preserver. Since 2010 when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have tried 42 times to repeal it. That’s every three weeks since it was enacted. Even though during that time the conservative U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts who was appointed by Bush and who is a staunch conservative found the ACA to be legal and binding.
Legitimate. Just like President Obama.
So two elections and one SCOTUS decision and still the Republicans can’t acknowledge defeat.
The governmental shutdown marks the 43rd time the Republicans have gone after the ACA. When the House voted last Friday to de-fund Obamacare, Speaker Boehner told reporters, “The American people don’t want the government shut down, and they don’t want Obamacare. The House has listened to the American people. Now it’s time for the United States Senate to
listen to them as well.”
But the Senate refused to be bullied by the Republican minority and so Republicans shut down the government.
It’s not the Civil War, but it’s a salvo over the bow, because we are at an impasse now. And the ACA is just a foil. What extremist Republicans want–and they run the party now, make no mistake–is to pretend the last two elections never happened.
Democracy doesn’t work that way. Democracy doesn’t move backward; it can only move forward. The voters spoke, the Supreme Court spoke and the tantrum the Republicans have thrown is tearing the nation apart.
The ACA is part of a democratic movement forward for the nation. With more than 67 million Americans–a third of them children–either uninsured or under-insured, the ACA is essential to the health of the nation. Why would anyone want to keep even one American from being protected from disease and injury? Why would anyone want to put the lives of children at risk? Why would anyone want to keep women from getting mammograms and men from getting prostate exams and kids from getting vaccinated for school or receiving life-saving treatment?
And yet that’s what the Republicans want to do.
Except it’s too late. On Oct. 1, the day after Republican extremists shut down the government and once again tried to assert the false sovereignty of their minority party, the ACA went into full effect. Because the ACA was already paid for. As the Republicans all knew when they pulled this stunt that has hurt millions and cost billions.
Contrary to what Boehner and other Republicans assert, Americans absolutely want health care. So much so that the ACA website crashed when close to ten million people tried to log on to sign up for health insurance in the first few hours on Oct. 1.
So is this irony writ large? The spiteful Republican minority in a 230 to 189 vote shuts the entire government down because they cannot find another way to subvert the Constitution?
It’s not the Civil War, but it’s a skirmish. And it’s a dangerous one. Political blood is being spilled and with our government under siege, the citizenry is as well. So much harm will come from this shutdown, it’s breathtaking. The CDC isn’t monitoring disease. An epidemic could break out tomorrow and we’d have no way of knowing. Food safety isn’t being monitored. There could be outbreaks of e.coli, salmonella and listeria and people would just sicken and die with no one to know there was a link.
Children in Head Start programs have nowhere to go, because those are closed down. WIC programs aren’t functioning. Thousands of people coming to visit historic Philadelphia will find Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and other revered landmarks closed until further notice. Want to travel? No passports or visas until…whenever. The list goes on and on.
Republicans will tell you this is the Democrats’ fault. It’s not. If Democrats were the minority party with only control of the House and threatened to shut down the government if gun control wasn’t voted in with the budget, the hue and cry would be heard worldwide.
This shutdown is a Republican gambit, a game being played with the nation that is putting millions at risk, 800,000 workers on furlough, many others out of work and the economy back into free-fall.
And for what, exactly? Republicans can’t get what they allege they want. Obamacare is already happening without them because it’s essential and necessary and Americans want it. It may not be a perfect plan–Republicans saw to that when they did everything they could to gut it in 2010–but it’s a gazillion times better than the nothing we had before it.
So what will the Republicans do now? How much hostage-taking do they plan for? How many of us will fall victim to their oligarchy?
We don’t know. The ugly truth is that one half of our nation’s two-party system has chosen to ignore the Constitution entirely, adopting the same mentality that was rife in 1860 and which precipitated the war that nearly ended the republic and took nearly a million men with it.
Is that the route we want to take again? Do we want a nation so riven by extremist ideology that one party–the minority party–can ignore elections, ignore Supreme Court decisions, ignore our Constitution, shut down the government and not pay a price?
Count the days of this shutdown. Mark the names of those who caused it. Email, call, tweet. Let them know the Constitution matters and they can’t shred it at will.
We have a legitimate government led by a legitimate president. We may not all like him or his policies, but he was elected fairly and democratically. Republicans lost on issues. And now they want to run the table on ideology.
President Obama and the Democrats cannot and must not accede to Republican threats. The Constitution matters. And unless someone stands for it, we simply aren’t the democracy nearly a million Americans gave their lives to save in the real Civil War.
(This piece appeared in The Independent Voice, Northwest Newspapers, Inc.)