“DEAR COLUMNIST: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say the government shutdown will last a long time, America will default on its debt and our economy and the world economy will nosedive. They say conservative Republicans are bullying the America political system and economy in way that doesn’t fit with how democracy is defined in my history books. My father says President Barack Obama and the Democrats started it and want the government shut down and a default. Papa says ‘If you see it on Fox News, read it on a conservative website, or if Rush Limbaugh says it must be so.’ My uncle says some Republicans are Republicans in name only these days and are grieving for what has happened to their party.
“Please tell me the truth: who’s to blame, will America go down the tubes, and is this the same Republican Party I read about in the history books that gave us Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and others?
“P.S. My friends and Eddie who’s five can’t believe grown-ups can be so immature.
“VIRGINIA EDNA SNODGRASS SCHMIDLAP, III, 285 Blizzard Street.”
Virginia, in my gut I’m convinced your little friends are wrong and that America will not default. Since you’ve read history, you know that underneath our partisanship, ideologies and divisions, Americans have above all been patriots who won’t sacrifice the national good and destroy our majority rule system for ideological gain.
But your friends are also correct: the current crisis was engineered by no-compromise Tea Party and fearful House Republicans, name recognition-seeking and donation-seeking politicians, talk show hosts who carve out audience share and deliver the demographic to advertisers, and some (but not all) conservative pundits.
When you get older you’ll read “Democracy in America,” written in the mid-1800s by French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville who warned of both Tyranny of the Majority and Tyranny of the Minority. Republican President William McKinley warned us about what we’re seeing now: “The tyranny of the minority is infinitely more odious and intolerable and more to be feared than that of the majority.” Our traditional political system is being tested.
We’re also learning this shutdown maneuver didn’t happen spontaneously. It turns out that right after Obama was elected some conservative Republicans planned to use a shutdown to try and defund “Obamacare.” They created talking points (later used by GOPers in Congress) on how to frame the shutdown argument and then pumped money into the defunding campaign effort. Deja vu: some GOPers in January 2009 laid plans to oppose Obama at every move before Obama had even been sworn in. Deja vu: it turned out that the early, big Tea Party rallies were aided by big bucks from conservative businessmen millionaires.
Your Dad is wrong about Fox News and the conservative entertainment media. The most notable characteristic of 21st century America is the partisan belief that if you repeatedly state a non-fact it becomes fact. The United States has had “truthers,” “birthers,” and now we have Republican “debit limit deniers” who insist a debt default is no big deal. Republican Rep. John Yoho said a default “would bring stability to world markets.”
The National Journal’s Charlie Cook writes “...[Y]ou would be quite believable if you were to suggest that the GOP has been making an active, masochistic effort to isolate itself from moderate, independent, and swing voters, further exacerbating all the problems with target constituencies that cost Mitt Romney the presidency and the GOP a national popular House vote victory.”
Today’s Republican Party is NOT the same as it was even 10 ago. It is now dominated by a powerful, no-compromise, far-right segment ready to purge those “going moderate” and jettison accepted democratic norms to achieve via power politics what it couldn’t achieve in elections or legal rulings. People who 10 years ago would have disgustedly rejected some of what they say and do are supporting what they say and do now because it’s their political team. A political party holding our economy hostage is new.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week’s online edition. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators.