We are constantly being reminded that we are a nation torn seemingly beyond repair, divided into irreconcilable camps, endlessly clashing over diminishing common ground.
And the culpability of big money in our current condition cannot be underplayed.
Rich conservatives are out to bend government to their will or break it in the attempt to discredit this Democratic president and ensure that there won’t be another soon.
This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Shaun McCutcheon is an Alabama Republican who wants to give more to his preferred candidates than is currently allowed by law. The Republican National Committee has joined McCutcheon in the case. If the court agrees with them, the already significant influence of big money in our politics would have no limits. The legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote an article about the case in July for The New Yorker entitled “Another Citizens United — but Worse.”
At the same time that Republicans want to increase the influence of the rich on our elections, they want to decrease the influence of the poor at the ballot box by passing a raft of new voter restrictions.
This is a sinister, last-gasp move of gangsterism: when you’re losing the game, tilt the table.
You must understand this larger plot to fully appreciate the Republicans’ current budget ploy. This is not so much about limiting government as it is about measuring power. Rich Republicans are reaching for the edges so that they can redefine the limits.
As The New York Times pointed out this weekend, Republicans — financed by the billionaire Koch brothers — began plotting this government shutdown over Obamacare soon after the president began his second term.
If they couldn’t win in a fair electoral fight, they’d win in an asymmetric legislative one.
Earlier this year, John Boehner hashed out a deal with Harry Reid — or at least had “several” conversations about a deal — in which the Democrats would accept the Republicans’ budget numbers ($70 billion below what the Democrats wanted) in return for the speaker’s voting on a continuing resolution with no strings attached.
The Republicans had won. But the speaker later reneged. He told George Stephanopoulos this weekend: “I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.”
To be clear, his far-right members in their bright red districts — and their deep-pocketed backers — forced him to reconsider.
Boehner is fighting his own battle — for his job and his legacy. He wants to appear in control of a caucus that is uncontrollable. The man who said last week of the government shutdown, “this isn’t some damn game,” is playing games. In fact, Politico reported Tuesday that many Republicans believe a massive budget deal is the best way to solve the current crisis, but Boehner has resisted, saying he wants to “put points on the board.”
The president, for his part, has deployed a list of metaphors as long as his arm to describe the Republicans — from hostage takers to deadbeat homeowners — to get more of the public to understand his principle of not negotiating on keeping the government open or paying the government’s bills. He wants to break the crisis cycle while simultaneously defending the Affordable Care Act. He wants to rescue the government from the clutches of the nihilists.
But many Americans are too frustrated to ferret out the details. They see dysfunction in the system as a whole and they’re fed up with it.
According to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, a third of Americans now cite dysfunctional government as the most important problem facing America today. That was the highest level ever recorded by Gallup, whose trend on the measure dates back to 1939, and dysfunction now ranks higher than the economy in general or unemployment and jobs in particular.
This is not a “both sides at fault” issue. It is a tremendously partisan one.
And according to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Republicans believe the president should agree to a deal that includes changes in his health care law, and 75 percent of Democrats believe that Republicans should agree to a deal with no health care changes. Independents are nearly evenly divided between the two.
Now the shutdown is beginning to bleed into the debate about whether to raise the debt limit, a debate that has brought out the Republican default deniers to further muddy the waters.
The government shutdown, as costly and futile as it is, would look like child’s play compared with a default.
According to a Tuesday report in Bloomberg/Businessweek, one global market research firm estimates that the government shutdown “cost $1.6 billion last week in lost economic output” and “the office closures are now draining an average of $160 million each workday from the $15.7 trillion economy.”
And if you think this is bad, consider that a default could trigger a full-blown recession. In a Wednesday report, CNN quoted the International Monetary Fund economist Olivier Blanchard as saying: “If there was a problem lifting the debt ceiling, it could well be what is now a recovery would turn into a recession or even worse.”
And yet, a growing number of Republicans are questioning the possibility of default. Unbelievable.
In some parts of the Republican universe, facts and fantasy merge, the truth doesn’t surface, it’s shaped, data must be made to conform to doxology, and accepted science borders on the heretical. This is how the money-rich are able to prey on the knowledge-poor.
This denial is sinking in among the Republican rank and file. A Pew Research Center report issued Monday found that most Republicans believe that we can go past the debt limit deadline without major problems.
This is bigger than Obamacare. This is about rich conservatives seeking to exert unlimited influence on our political system, and employing far-right Republicans who are animated, to varying degrees, by an innate hostility to this president, fear of diminishing influence and a disavowal of disagreeable truths.
This is about the fragility of our democracy: the possibility that a government by the people may swiftly give way to a government dominated by dark money and dark motives.