We can at best hope that there will come a time when generations, perhaps yet unborn, will look back on the current state of the country’s politics with utter disdain and thankful that this run of sick behavior among the political class burned itself out, although not before the landscape had been hideously scarred. To contemplate the alternative – that the descent into our present hell will be a condition sustained for the long haul – is to commit those generations yet to come to an unremitting bleakness.
It’s ironic that the meltdown bringing us face-to-face with the soggy mess that is what now passes for the conduct of affairs of state, has come just when the nation trotted out, for the world to bear witness, the choice plum in defense of its boast as the supreme embodiment of democracy in action. That being, of course, the election of Barack Obama five years ago. But in the wake of which, whoever may have held a conviction that this was an accident of history that wasn’t supposed to occur when it did, must think their instincts may have been right after all.
In this age of Obama we have been forced, like never before, to zero in on the whole concept of representation of the people, given its all too frequent slide into travesty. We have had to question whether, across the board in the society, respect for the presidency is indeed a given. We have seen the business of governance reduced to reckless pursuit of extreme, irresponsible actions, with scant regard for potentially catastrophic consequences.
The Affordable Care Act has been passed by the Congress, signed into law by the president and even reaffirmed as the law of the land by the Supreme Court. Republicans in the House of Representatives have, on 42 occasions now, passed legislation in that chamber to delegitimize the Affordable Care Act, knowing full well said legislation was going nowhere in the Democratic controlled Senate and, in the unlikely event it did, that it would face the president’s certain veto. Republicans alone, presumably, could come up with the answer for what makes this puerile indulgence a valid use of the time they sought voters’ consent to spend on Capitol Hill. The re-write that was done for performance No. 42 last week, though, made for better theater, supposedly. At the very least, threatening to shut down the government would tend to guarantee a larger and more engaged audience.
Some have suggested that maybe it is a fear of how positive and necessary the new healthcare measure will prove to be that has triggered this high-octane blowback against it. Polling on the Affordable Care Act has come up with the curious finding of an apparent kneejerk objection to it, but support for its core constituent elements – a clear indication of the public not being in tune with what the Act entails. Whether or not there is in fact a creeping suspicion among Republicans that a public embrace of the measure will build following the October 1 rollout, what’s obvious even to many Republicans is that attempting to hold the new program hostage over a government shutdown threat is self-defeating political strategy.
But we’ve seen this movie before: renegade Republicans in the House aggressively assuming the role of tail wagging the dog that is the full caucus. There is constant comment about the House leadership’s inability to control this rump, whose fondness for extremist positions on matters up for consideration has become a staple of the GOP’s way to go, ever since they gained majority status in 2011. More concerning about this hard-line posse is that they represent districts that have been sliced and diced to become fitting extensions of the obstruction-minded lot sitting in Washington. Nothing more loudly speaks to the need for reform in the process of drawing Congressional Districts.
Shutting down the government is a reckless action that not only impacts the U.S., but has world-wide repercussions. The push for a move of such callous indifference, coming reportedly from the Tea Party Republicans who probably take comfort in being accurate barometers of their districts’ prevailing sentiment, only underscores how misguided (or worse) is their understanding of informed representation. Seeing as how a plausible circumstance justifying the shutdown of government isn’t very likely, the member of Congress opting to go there is clearly quite a bit less than the ultimate patriot he or she purports to be. Ditto, the member of Congress proffering the “reflecting my district” line as cover. If constituents don’t have it right, the representative’s responsibility to be a torch bearer, provide enlightenment, is part of the deal. If he can’t or won’t, that’s another story.
Regrettably, we’ve had way too much of the latter narrative. Irreverence for civility and compromise in the conduct of government business has become much the norm. Two GOP-authored government shutdowns in a period of divided government in the 1990s. Multiple eleventh hour escapes from meltdowns since the current divided government chapter commenced in 2011, with the threats of similar drama attending Washington’s functioning very much on the radar right now. There’s a level of mean-spiritedness that has made its way into the forum, the perpetrators of which should rightly be banished. Not just for the sake of today’s witnesses to this routine lack of grace. But for its unflattering imprint for the ages.