The Republicans will be happy to keep the government shut down until they feel that the Democratic voters, in their minds the only beneficiaries of federal spending, are sufficiently punished for the sin of being Them.
Always keep in mind, Republicans have themselves or at least have their most faithful voters convinced that all government spending that doesn’t buy bombs or bullets is a combination of theft and bribery (See Romney, Mitt. Gifts.) or a form of charity that is morally corrupting. Better to do without food, medical care, and heat in your home in winter, than to accept a government “handout” and show yourself up as a spiritual as well as material failure and risk becoming one of Them, the lazy and dependent Others.
Needing to believe that their suffering is their ticket to heaven, they’re willing to live with bad schools, crumbling roads, collapsing bridges, and sick and hungry children or, more usually, desperate to pretend not to know all the ways government not only makes their lives better but possible so that they can feel slighted, victimized, and virtuous.
Notice I’m saying the Republicans. Not the Tea Party. The establishment press corps continues to blame the crazies in the House when they’re not blaming the Democrats and the President for refusing to compromise, a word they like to use as shorthand for “surrender on every important point.” The assumption is still that the true grown-ups are the Republican “moderates” who will somehow find us a way out of this mess, if only the President will let himself be guided by them.
Where are these grown-ups and how many of them are there? There only needs to be seventeen who will vote with House Democrats to pass a clean CR without any nonsense about Obamacare or gratuitous insults to women and re-open the doors of government offices and lift the gates at the national parks and put nearly a million people back to work.
Right now, as best as anyone can figure, there are about twenty of them.
At least, there are twenty sensible enough and brave enough that they’re ready to do the right and smart thing.
This is heartening, right?
But here’s the thing.
There are 232 Republicans in the House.
And only forty-nine are members of the Tea Party caucus.
Forty-nine crazies and twenty brave grown-ups.
Who are those 161 other people?
The Washington Post has an interview with Paul Stebbins, Executive Chairman of World Fuel Services, who is infuriated and appalled by House Republicans’ recklessness and seeming ignorance about how the world works.
I don’t know much about Stebbins. At first glance he appears to be an ideal businessman, intelligent, socially responsible, a good corporate neighbor type, someone likely to see all the employees of his company as human beings and not just resources to be exploited and then disposed of when played out, the type of philanthropically-minded rich person who pack the halls at the Clinton Global Initiative looking to fund schools in Haiti and small business-enterprises in Africa.
At second glance, he appears to be a run of the mill oligarch whose concern about the debt is self-interested. If business leaders like him don’t step in, the debt might get settled by an increase in corporate taxes. He’s willing to accept nominal reform of the tax code in exchange for major cuts in entitlements, a “reasonable” position that makes sure the poor and the sick foot more of the bill than the rich and entitled.
A third glance would probably show something else, but I’m not really interested in Stebbins himself here, only in something he said in the interview.
“Look, I had the chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee, Fred Upton, tell me that he got into an argument with one of these young guys on his committee about the defunding of Affordable Care Act. Well the argument was 'look, Energy and Commerce had 50 hearings on that bill. Like it or not, it passed. The president signed it. The Supreme Court upheld it. So you don't get to pick a bill you don't like and link it to the entire financial well being of the United States.; Well the response is, 'I didn't come here to govern.' Well what did you come here for? What did you come here for? To burn it to the ground?”
Repeating myself here, but, yes, they did come to burn it to the ground.
The federal government is the enemy because it is run by the enemy---liberals---for the benefit of the enemy---Them! You know, those Others!
Their object isn’t to govern but to stop the enemy from governing, to take the controls away from those who are intent on doing the nation---“Us”---harm. They aren’t there to play politics. They aren’t politicians. No way. They’re taking control the way any decent person not a pilot would try to wrestle control of a plane away from the terrorists hijacking it. That idiot Congressman’s comparison between himself and his colleagues and the passengers aboard United 93 was adolescent and tasteless but not totally inapt. Smartypants liberals smugly pointing out that the plane crashed are missing the point. Crashing the plane saved the probable target, the White House, and God knows how many people who’d have been in the neighborhood that morning. The Tea Party nuts are willing to crash the plane to save the country.
(Of course, the comparison reveals itself to be ridiculous when you hear the nuts blustering that they don’t expect to pay any price for crashing the plane. They’re convinced the nation will cheer them as heroes without their having to be martyrs at the same time. Self-sacrifice isn’t part of their plan, only self-aggrandizement.)
But like I said there are only forty-nine Tea Partiers and the last time the House voted on a bill funding the government for at least a little while more, it included both the assault on Obamacare and women’s health and rights, and all but two Republicans voted for it.
Neither of those two was Fred Upton.
Because he’s a Republican.
The Republican Party is divided into three factions: The Religious Right, the Tea Party Right, and the Corporatist Right. There’s lots of crossover based on shared beliefs that they are the only true and truly deserving Americans, the real owners of the place, that there are privileges that come with ownership, and that there’s a great mob of Others, a Them, trying to take the country from them and deny them their privileges.
The corporatists just define Them a little more broadly.
By Them, the Religious Right and the Tea Party Right mean those who don’t look like “us”, who don’t talk like “us”, who don’t believe exactly what “we” believe. The corporatists mean everybody who isn’t rich, which includes most members of the Religious Right and the Tea Party Right who haven’t caught on that many of their fellow Republicans regard them as Them.
The corporatists believe the country exists for the care and feeding of millionaires and it belongs to those with the money to buy it up in pieces as they need it. You own only whatever pieces you’ve got the dough for. You’re entitled only to what you can pay for out of pocket. The corporatists hate Obamacare maybe more than Tea Party types. Exasperated liberals keep pointing out that Obamacare is based on a Republican design. They forget it violates the corporatist Republican principle that nobody gets to have what they don’t have the cash to buy and that includes good schools, safe neighborhoods, security in old age, and health care.
These are the people who read Atlas Shrugged as if it’s a Right Wing Wealth of Nations or Das Kapital. These are the Club For Growth types, the Gliberatians, the genuflecters at the shrine of Milton Friedman and kissers of Grover Norquist’s ring. They are the ones who insist that tax cuts pay for always and automatically pay for themselves, that the government doesn't create jobs, that regulating business and the financial industry is worse than counterproductive because the market regulates itself, that selfishness is the basis of all virtue, that greed is good. In the Washington Post interview, Stebbins laments the naiveté of the business community when it comes to understanding how Washington works but then he naively (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt) buys into the Both Sides are to Blame nonsense the craven Media uses to absolve Republicans of blame and fault whenever they are to blame and at fault:
We have a higher duty of care to engage this issue. It is grossly reckless to watch the long term business trajectory of the U.S. to be at such risk. And we are part of the pathology that got us here. We've all had our K Street lobbyists who are part of the problem. You've got the classic narrative: Progressives say, 'fat cat CEOs want to throw grandma into the snow, and all their special tax interests.' And then you've got the Club for Growth that thinks we sold them out.
But the corporatists do want to throw grandma into the snow, some people’s grandmas at any rate, the grandmas who didn’t have the sense to get rich while the getting rich was good and who now rely on Social Security to keep roofs over their heads and Medicare to keep or make them well. The corporatists love Paul Ryan’s Survival of the Richest budget which, no matter how Ryan’s fans in the Media try to spin it, is a plan to eliminate Medicare and Social Security and just about every other social welfare program not in order to balance the budget but to reduce taxes on the rich to as near to zero as possible.
Republicans like Fred Upton can blame the Tea Party firebrands for the mess they’ve put us in, but if you vote with the firebrands you are as good as one of them, and while there are some Republicans who are voting with them because they’re afraid of them or of their influence on conservative voters back home, there are plenty who are voting with them because, although they deplore their manners, agree with their aims: cutting government spending to the bone, ending Obamacare, humiliating the President, and putting Them back in their place.
If and when the House passes a clean CR, it may be with the votes of a majority of Republicans, but it won’t be because they are all sane and sensible grown-ups doing the sane and sensible thing. It will be because the corporatists among them have been persuaded that shutting down the government will damage their re-election chances and hurt the bottom lines of their corporate paymasters.
The Tea Party hasn’t been getting its way despite the majority of House Republicans.
It’s been getting its way because their way is also the way of a majority of House Republicans.
And it’s not just in the House.
The reason there will be a clean CR for those twenty sane, sensible, and brave House Republicans to vote for is that fifty-four Democratic and Independent Senators sent them back one.
All forty-four Republican Senators on hand voted against it.
Speaking of the Clinton Global Initiative, I couldn’t make it this year because of my teaching schedule. But Tom Watson was there and wrote about in several posts for Forbes, starting with this one, Clinton Global Initiative: Philanthropy's High Stakes Trading Floor.