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

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Stupid Campaign Tactics

The Republican running against Mayor Cory Booker for the late, and great, Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat is named Steve Lonegan. I didn’t know much about Lonegan, until now. Now I know Lonegan is an idiot.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the nation’s implementation of Obamacare “a criminal act” as he ended his trip across New Jersey today with a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan outside a Bergen County diner.

Rick Perry? He invited Rick Perry to New Jersey to campaign with him?

In Bergen County, no less. Bergen is right across the Hudson from Manhattan. I lived there for ten years, before I moved to New York. It’s no hotbed of liberalism, but unless the population recently began to feel the effects of mercury poisoning, or something, it’s not that right wing, either, especially on social issues.

And if there’s one thing I know about New Jerseyites, it’s that the howdy partner cowboy act does not resonate with them. It’s utterly alien, like performing Chinese opera at a Polish wedding.

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How Low Can They Go?

Some children with cancer are now blocked from experimental trials that may have been their parents’ last hope. Nearly 9 million mothers and children under five are in danger of losing WIC vouchers they exchange for food. But the House is hysterical about the closure of … national monuments?

Today’s screaming point is that some World War II vets were barred from the World War II Memorial in Washington. Leaving aside the fact that the World War II memorial looks like something designed by Albert Speer — damn shame about that — did the baggers really think the shutdown would have no effect on real people?

Anyhoo, barricades got moved and the vets charged in. I understand some Republican House members claimed to have moved the barricades. At the very least, somebody should march them back to the mall and insist they pick up the trash and put the barricades back themselves, since there are no employees to do it.

Last night Jon Steward reminds us that awhile back the Faux Nooz crowd was screaming about closing tours of the White House. How low can they go? one cried. But, y’know, it’s possible to live a long and happy life without ever touring the White House. Letting cancer go untreated, not so much.

(Warning to my brother and sister geezers: Do not watch with full bladder.)

Sen. Ted Cruz got the bright idea of funding individual items piecemeal, so yesterday some House baggers proposed appropriations resolutions to fund the District of Columbia, veterans programs and national parks. Hungry children with cancer are not a priority, I guess. But the resolutions were shot down. Nancy Pelosi compared the resolutions to releasing one hostage at a time.

Conventional wisdom among Dems this morning is that a prolonged shutdown will give them leverage on the upcoming debt ceiling fight.

Ed Kilgore writes,

For the past several weeks, of course, John Boenher has been committed to the demand for major, disabling Obamacare changes as a price for either the CR or a debt limit increase (the identify of the hostage has changed constantly). With the president and Democrats refusing to make concessions on ACA in order to secure a CR, and refusing to negotiate over the debt limit at all, it’s not clear what the the parties would be negotiating about if they were in regular talks. It’s also not clear that Boehner has the Republican votes in the House to pursue a different strategy.

So at this point we are looking at a scenario where only a major retreat by one side or the other is going to make any difference. There are some extraordinary remedies the president could take to avoid a debt default (e.g., the one urged on him by Brookings’ Henry Aaron just yesterday). And presumably Wall Street will weigh in with pressure on Boehner and company to the effect that stupid gesturing on Obamacare isn’t worth a major risk to the national and global economies. But I suspect we’ll have to experience a staring match until the Big Blink becomes possible.

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