While the absurd shutdown of the federal government has finally ended, it’s hard to be optimistic about the state of the current political debate.
A small, but loud and determined reactionary faction of the Republican Party is unapologetic about the pain their pathetic stunt caused for millions of people and the damage it did to the still sluggish national economic recovery.
Standard & Poor’s estimates that the shutdown took at least $24 billion out of the economy. Then there’s the damage to consumer confidence as the holiday season approaches. After all, it might all happen again in January. Some key tea partiers are promising a repeat performance in three months.
Senator Elizabeth Warren’s reaction in an email to constituents sums things up pretty well.
Yes, we prevented an economic catastrophe that would have put a huge hole in our fragile economic recovery. But the reason we were in this mess in the first place is that a reckless faction in Congress took the government and the economy hostage for no good purpose and to no productive end…
…$24 billion dollars. How many children could have been back in Head Start classes? How many seniors could have had a hot lunch through Meals on Wheels? How many scientists could have gotten their research funded? How many bridges could have been repaired and trains upgraded?
And it wasn’t just progressive Democrats who were disgusted by the week’s events. Here is what right-wing anti-tax activist Grover Norquist told National Review.
“I think if you make a mistake as big as what they did, you owe your fellow senators and congressmen a big apology — and your constituents, as well, because nothing they did advanced the cause of repealing or dismantling Obamacare.”
“They hurt the conservative movement, they hurt people’s health care, they hurt the country’s economic situation and they hurt the Republican Party.”
When Grover Norquist is complaining that extremists in the Republican Party hurt the nation’s economy and people’s health care, you would think most folks on the Right would take notice.
But you would be wrong. One of the architects of the shutdown was North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows, who drafted the letter that was signed by roughly 80 House members promising to oppose any effort to keep the government running that did not defund the Affordable Care Act.
Meadows, who said last year at a Tea Party forum about President Obama that “we’ll send him home to Kenya or wherever it is,” was one of six Republican members of the state’s House delegation who voted against the bill that finally ended the shutdown and prevented the nation from defaulting on its debts.
But that didn’t prevent a prominent conservative state pundit from predicting that Meadows had nothing to worry about in his reelection bid next year because “he is doing such a good job.”
Extremism that cost the country $24 billion, denying services to some of the most vulnerable people in North Carolina, and prompting sharp criticism from folks ranging Elizabeth Warren to Grover Norquist, well that’s all part of the current political game apparently. No big deal.
It’s same shoulder shrugging from the folks on the Right in North Carolina we saw earlier this year when a group of tea partiers held a nullification rally on the first day of the legislative session in January.
Several Republican legislators attended and so did then North Carolina Republican Party Chair Robin Hayes who thanked the organizers for putting the event together, even though it was held to demand that state lawmakers nullify–that is refuse to obey—federal laws they don’t like.
George Wallace and other segregationists tried that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out in his famous speech 50 years ago at the March on Washington.
Speakers at the rally in Raleigh specifically mentioned the Affordable Care Act as something they want to nullify along with any new federal laws passed to reduce gun violence in the wake of the massacre of children at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
It’s rhetoric you hear frequently at Tea Party events, where people who are considered “respectable” members of the conservative movement share the stage with the nullifiers and birthers and shutdowners.
It is rhetoric you will hear again in Raleigh this weekend at something called Nullify Now, an event at the Raleigh Convention Center. One of the featured speakers is Greg Brannon, the Tea Party candidate for the Republican nomination for Senate who this week received the endorsement of Senator Rand Paul, the darling of the far-right in Washington.
Not much is going to change in our political debate until enough folks on the conservative side stop pandering to and enabling people like Brannon and Ted Cruz and Mark Meadows.
Senator Richard Burr said in July that trying to shutdown the federal government to defund the Affordable Care Act was the dumbest idea he’d ever heard of.
The only thing dumber would be to sit idly by and allow the extremists to do it again, to hurt more families and take billions more out of the economy.
Let’s have heated debates and contentious votes and fierce campaigns about the direction of our state and our country. Absolutely. That’s democracy.
But enough already with the hostage taking and nullification calls and all the rest of the radical extremism that is sheepishly tolerated by cowering conservatives these days. Time for a little courage on the Right. We can’t take much more of this.