Be Afraid

The extraordinary and unprecedented events in Washington — in which a minority faction of extremists is somehow holding the nation hostage to nullify a constitutionally enacted law they don’t like — has inspired some smart people to write some smart things about how something like this could happen in America. And, frankly, most of it is pretty depressing.

First, see Thomas Frank, “Reaching for the pillars: The conservative plan is sabotage.” You must read the whole thing. I started to excerpt some of it, but it’s hard to choose any one part. The “reaching for the pillars” is a reference to the biblical story of Sampson, who destroyed his enemies by pulling down the pillars of their temple, which ended Sampson’s life as well. Years ago the Right set out to destroy American society to keep it from moving left, and they’ll keep at it or die trying. They’ve done so much damage already it probably cannot be reversed.

Then read Charles Pierce discussing the Right’s “campaign of pure vandalism.” He’s echoing many of Thomas Frank’s themes. If you have time, read the rest of what Pierce has written today, too.

If you aren’t depressed enough already, see Matt Yglesias, Juan “Linz’s Bad News for America.” The late Juan Linz was a political scientist who argued that republics governed by a “presidential” system, as opposed to a parliamentary one, are inherently less able to resolve intractable conflicts like the one we’re having now. Matt Yglesias writes,

… his analysis has a disturbing message for residents of the contemporary United States. The current atmosphere of political crisis isn’t a passing fad and it isn’t going to get better. In fact, it’s very likely to get worse. Much worse. And lead to a complete breakdown of constitutional government and the democratic order.

Anne Appelbaum notes one other significant difference between America and just about everyone else — even as a destructive faction is trying to break the rule of law, we’re all sitting around waiting for the rule of law to resolve the problem.

A couple of days ago, an Egyptian tweeted that it was “impressive how everyone in #US follows the law even in the face of extreme political vandalism by an irrational fringe. #Egypt.” His intention was ironic, but actually, he was right. In many parts of the world—in, say, Egypt—an “irrational fringe” group of politicians who tried to subvert the entire political system by overturning a law already confirmed by three branches of government would be called “insurgents” or “coup-plotters” and their behavior would lead to arrest, prison, or worse.

But because Americans, even irrational Americans, no longer use violence to achieve their goals, because this process is still just barely taking place within the outer boundaries of those institutions, and because the protagonists still observe the language if not always the spirit of the law, the result is peaceful. That is indeed impressive. But it is a narrow achievement. Americans are paying a high price for the events of this week, though they may not know it. The cost of shutting down the federal government for a few days or even a few weeks pales in comparison with the damage we are doing not only to the credibility of the United States abroad, but to the credibility of democracy itself.

Seriously, if most of these whackjobs are re-elected next year without facing any consequences for what they’ve done, the rest of us may have to make some very hard choices. Because the nation cannot go on like this.

And if you still see a ray of hope, see Jonathan Chait, “Why the Shutdown Is Leading to Debt Default; or, What Happens When You Take Hostages Without a Plan.”

On a somewhat lighter note, see Joan Walsh, “Angry right gets mad when you accuse it of race-baiting.”

Upate: Martn Wolf, “America flirts with self-destruction

21 thoughts on “Be Afraid

  1. The Republicans have now become the infamous “death panels” we have heard of as Americans will die if the shutdown does continue for weeks. They are the ones who are refusing to compromise. They are ones who are not doing their job as prescribed in the U.S. Consitution, which is to appropriate money to pay our bills. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “O what fools these Republicans be.”

  2. Well, OK, the concerns are well founded, but we aren’t beaten yet. And as far as the debt ceiling, I don’t foresee a default, whether or not the Republicans agree to raise it. I could be disastrously wrong, of course, but if worse comes to worse I currently believe that Obama will do the right thing and say screw the debt ceiling, and order the Treasury to keep paying the nation’s debts anyway.

    I believe he’d be on solid ground constitutionally, too. The Constitution doesn’t say that Congress shall pass no laws that are blatantly stupid, of course, but it does give Congress the power–and thus also the responsibility–to lay and collect taxes and to borrow money on the credit of the United States, in order, among other things, to pay the Debts of the United States. And it also says the President shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

    So I don’t see how James Madison would agree that it’s cool for Congress to rack up debts and then refuse to either raise or borrow the money to pay the bills when they come due. (Not to mention, Alexander Hamilton is totally spinning in his grave right now.)

    Of course, who knows how this Supreme Court would rule, but given that they’ve already found the ACA constitutional, there’s some reason for optimism that Roberts, at least, won’t want to be in the position of ordering the president to default on the nation’s debts.

    And hopefully it wouldn’t come to that anyway. First of all, the Republicans would finally have an excuse to impeach Obama, and they’ve amply demonstrated the total lack of foresight that it would take for them to jump into such a media circus, where they’d get a chance to act like total assholes for a few months during the impeachment hearings before the inevitable acquittal by the Senate. And in the meanwhile, it’s not like the pressure on Boehner to go ahead and raise the debt ceiling is going to abate, and as soon as he does the whole thing is moot.

    On the other hand, I have no idea what to expect on the shutdown, and global warming is going to fry us all pretty soon anyway.

  3. I saw Darryl Issa being interviewed on some news clip and the interviewer made mention of the 800,000 people being thrown out of work through the furlough . Without batting an eye and with an air of indignation Issa responded with, Oh no, they’ll be paid.
    I know he was reflexively lying by deflecting responsibility for the damage that they’ve caused, but I wondered if the Repugs had considered paying a retroactive wage loss to those who are furloughed as part of their their pre-shutdown strategy.
    It struck me as strange that a party that overly concerns itself with government waste would pay 800,000 people to sit on their hands for any period of time, let alone an extended period of time.

  4. Ironically, repugs treasonous games in Congress has worked to make Obama and the presidency even more powerful. Since Congress can’t make decisions, someone has to. Which leaves the prez the only adult in the room. If they wage a war on the debt ceiling I bet Obama just ignores them and then keeps paying the bills. Politically he is much more liked than the House repugs, and I believe he is right, constitutionally. He can go to the American people and claim that he is looking out for the integrity of the US, and being responsible, which he is. Tada, a strong prez and a weaker Congress.

  5. Rather remarkably, I’m not going to doomsay.
    Yes, the country is in a dangerous spot.
    But, in danger, lies opportunity.
    This may be a tipping point, for the Teabaggers.
    They’ve cast their lot, and put all of the chips, on the shutdown lasting up until the debt ceiling, and betting that the President and the Democrats will blink.
    And if they do, the Teabaggers win.
    Ah, but if they don’t?

    I saw Boehner come out of the meeting with the President yesterday, a broken man – even more broken than usual.
    It’s apparent that the Teabaggers in the House have a different de facto Speaker, and that’s Ted Cruz. Ditto, the Senate.
    And sure, a whole lot of Republican Congresspeople and Senators, who once voiced an opinion against a shutdown, rallied-round the elephant after the decision to shutdown the Federal government was actually made.
    But after that meeting yesterday, when the President, and Reid, and Pelosi, told the Republicans to suck eggs, cracks are starting to appear.
    The House isn’t all Teabaggers. There are still Republicans from purple districts in the Northeast, and Midwest – and other areas – who don’t want to commit political suicide continuing to stay with Teabagger “Suicide Caucus,” who are gerrymandered into safe Red, lily-white, and no Blues, districts, and whose jobs are safe for the foreseeable future.
    These non-Teabaggers, are hearing about the shutdown from their constituents, and don’t see staying with their suicidal Republican brethren as a good career move, and are calling for an “open vote”:

    I don’t expect much movement until right before the October 17th debt ceiling deadline.
    But if the non-completely insane Republicans can get that open vote, the shutdown will end, and there’ll most likely be no continuing debt ceiling fight.

    Boehner may be out, as Speaker, but not for good – unless he wants to be.
    The Teabaggers will try to foist one of their own into the position, but the Democrats can work with the non-Teabaggers, and either reinstall Boehner, or choose a new Speaker from the non-insane Republicans.

    And this may cause the Teabaggers, to go “All 3rd Party” on everyone’s asses!
    And I’m fine with that, because that 3rd Party will draw their voters from the Republicans running for Congress, and the Senate, and for President, which may make it easier for Democrats to regain the House if the Democrats wage a 50-state battle for every Congressional District, keep the Senate, and have at least another 4 years where there’s no Republican in the Oval Office.

    Now, is this probable?
    I don’t know.
    But it’s certainly possible!
    Of course, I can’t factor-in the effect of the wealthiest of the wealthy, and the ramifications from the SCOTUS’s “Citizens United” decision, in any upcoming election.

    Now, what do we do about the other cancer – the one not in DC, but in our state houses, where the Teabaggers are undermining the United States of America, one state at a time?
    That, I don’t know.
    Except hope that the ramifications of that scenario I described above, ‘trickling-down.’ And wouldn’t it be nice to finally see something good ‘trickle-down?’

    Remember one thing, though – at this point, and for the foreseeable future, there are no “moderate” Republicans, no matter what the MSM does to make it seem that way.
    There are only “Less-insane” and “Less-Nihilistic” Republicans.

    Now, having said all of this, I’ll probably read something later today which will bring me right back into my deep-depression doomsay mode.

  6. I saw Boehner come out of the meeting with the President yesterday, a broken man – even more broken than usual.

    He wasn’t broken.. He came out of the meeting repeating the same stupid bullshit. The President refuses to negotiate. That can be interpreted in two ways.. Either he’s contrite because he realizes he fucked up and the president won’t give him a way to save face, or he’s just repeating a offensive mantra in defiance of reason. If he appeared broken it was probably due to a prolonged separation from his whiskey bottle. Who knows.. Maybe his pink elephants were getting rowdy.

  7. Oh, regarding that “reaching for the pillars”. Jerry Falwell was a big over stuffed bag of shit and blubber …and the world is a better place since he’s departed it. He’s not burning in hell, he’s sizzling like a strip of bacon.

  8. I saw Boehner come out of the meeting with the President yesterday, a broken man – even more broken than usual.

    I think he was just jonesin for drink. The meeting lasted 70 minutes probably longer than he has gone without a drink in weeks! I’ll give the repuplicants this, they are on message, the message makes no sense but they are on it.

  9. We need Obama to NOT surrender one inch. Not one.

    As for the next election, these GOP terrorists will be praised and rewarded with solid returns for their evil deeds.

    The Fascist rank and file were thrilled with Mussolini’s March on Rome, and the Nazis were thrilled by the Reichstag fire.

  10. Will the Supremes save us?

    What if the Republicans keep it up and don’t give in?

    What if they do this about the debt ceiling, too?

    What happens when social security checks, Medicare payments to providers, unemployment insurance, and government paychecks stop going out?

    Does somebody go to the Supremes and do the Supremes, a conservative court but perhaps not as radical as the house Republicans, announce that the debt limit is unconstitutional?

    In your dreams, right?

    And what about the shutdown?

    Do the Supremes tell the house they control the budget but the president may and must pay for already lawfully authorized, ongoing services?

  11. I hear that Boehner cut himself shaving this morning and he was bleeding so bad his that eyes cleared up.

  12. Can’t argue with this.

    “If you’re working here, and in the middle of the day you just stopped and said, ‘You know what, I want to get something, but I don’t know exactly what I’m going to get, but I’m just going to stop working till I get something, and I’m going to shut down the whole plant until I get something,’ you’d get fired,” Obama said at the M. Luis Construction Co. in Rockville, Md.

  13. Shots fired at Capital Building in DC!!!!!

    NOW, maybe we can talk about gun control?

  14. Chait gets it:

    Boehner resembles William H. Macy’s character in Fargo, who concocts a simple plan to have his wife kidnapped and skim the proceeds, failing to think a step forward about what happens once she’s actually seized by violent criminals. He doesn’t intend for her to be harmed, but also has no ability to control the plan once he’s set it in motion. In the end, Boehner’s Speakership is likely to end up in the wood chipper, anyway.

    The shutdown isn’t really the issue – it has some effects – but failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic. Because it has never happened before, noone can really predict how it would play out. It could define Obama’s presidency, much like the Iranian hostage crisis is forever attached to Jimmy Carter. And for a very similar dynamic.

    As with the character in “Fargo”, events are spinning out of control. If we default, no one will remember that something called “ObamaCare” was the spark that triggered it. And I was afraid before I even read this posting.

  15. “In this sense, conservative Washington is a botch that will keep on working even after its formal demise. It defunded the constituencies of the liberal state while constructing a plutocracy that will stand regardless of who wins the next few elections and that will weight our politics rightward for years.”

    This is the closing paragraph of ‘Reaching for the Pillars”, the punch line. Suppose you could deconstruct the plutocracy (which democrats helped build) and restored real democracy with all the noise, chaos and dissent which is characteristic of a diverse society – wouldn’t that throw a strong set of cuffs on Sampson. Consider this goal – ending the plutocracy – completely separate from your partisan views on issues. Drive the big money out of politics and make Congress , to quote Madison in Federalist 52, “dependent on the People alone.”

    Then we will see progress on issues and prosperity for the working class.

  16. Let’s talk about the open vote. If Boehner was to bring up a CR without attachments, there are enough GOP defectors to pass it. If the CR was linked to an increase of the debt ceiling, I suspect it too would pass – and this would end this silly show. The GOP majority would demand an election for a new Speaker – intending to replace Boehner with a Tea Party radical. (I have even heard moosewoman is under consideration for the job.)

    In the election, each party puts up their candidate, who doesn’t have to be an elected member of the House. The democrats are outgunned, their candidate can’t win- so try a trick play – the democrats in the House can select as their candidate,a moderate republican. There are, IMO, more than enough GOP house members who are sick to death of the Tea Party and want to get some stuff done. If that means working with democrats as a means of castrating the Tea Party, they might go for it.

  17. My impression of Boehner is the man is on automatic – he’s not thinking, he’s reacting trying to save his speakership. There’s no goal but that – and no leadership. He’ll do whatever he things saves him.

    Meaning of course he’s extremely manipulable. Either way I suspect he’ll be out of that position as early as possible.

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