The Sabotage Of American Democracy

Negotiations Continue On Capitol Hill One Day Before Debt Limit Deadline

I suppose I shouldn’t in any way be shocked by the extraordinarily vehement attitude of Tea Party Republicans after they nearly destroyed the US and global economy. And yet I am somewhat grateful I can still be shocked by a column on Fox News’ website. Here’s how it starts:

American taxpayers have once again been trampled by establishment Republicans – a thundering herd of chicken-hearted Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) galloping to the Left. The debt ceiling deal struck between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a victory for President Obama and Democrats. ObamaCare is still the law of the land. The government is still spending money it does not have. And thousands of government workers just got a two-week vacation courtesy of the taxpayers.

Let’s take the last three disappointments/wishes from the non-chicken-hearted.

“ObamaCare is still the law of the land.”

Yes, it is. But that’s because the president who proposed it and the Senate that voted for it were re-elected in 2012. That’s how our system works. Is it possible Todd Starnes doesn’t know this? No, it isn’t. So it is fair, I think, to infer that he believes that because his party regards this centrist, private-sector-dependent reform as an “abomination”, the federal government should be shut down permanently and the country’s credit destroyed, prompting a global depression. And that’s why this episode has been so disturbing. It is not that the GOP doesn’t have a perfect right to vote against Obamacare a zillion times; it’s that they responded to their electoral loss in 2012 by threatening to destroy the entire polity and economy. That is not a tactic or a strategy; it’s a declaration of war against the system of American government.

“The government is still spending money it does not have.”

Yes, it is. But almost all the current debt is a function of massive tax cuts in 2001 that were never paid for (by the GOP), two bank-breaking wars that were never paid for (by the GOP), a big new entitlement for seniors, Medicare D, that was never paid for (by the GOP), and the usgs_line.phprevenue sinkhole provided by the worst recession since the 1930s (begun before Obama took office.). The scale of the debt thus acquired is vast. I think Starnes is absolutely right to make its reduction a priority. The question is a pragmatic one – how do we cut entitlement and defense spending along with raising revenues to get there?

One side is prepared to consider cuts in entitlement programs it cherishes; the other side is resolutely opposed to any net revenue increases at all. One side could begin to negotiate a debt deal that was 2-1 spending cuts to tax hikes; the other side refuses to negotiate even a 10-1 deal. What, for example, does the GOP offer the Democrats on fiscal matters right now? I see nothing. If one side is prepared to give nothing, no deal can be done. And if the Tea Party is right about the urgency of cutting the debt, no deal is very bad fiscal news.

And part of the pragmatic solution is recognizing that immediately ending the government’s current deficit by spending cuts alone would so vitiate economic growth that it would be counter-productive. Starnes is therefore not actually serious about the debt, and neither is the Tea Party.

Their proposal for an immediate balancing of the budget would deepen the debt; and their absolute refusal to countenance any net new revenues to the federal government means they will never get an actual compromise that would actually cut the debt in a meaningful long-term way. In other words, their absolutism on taxes essentially destroys their debt-reduction position … as long as we remain in a constitutional democracy with two parties trying to represent all the people. If the president were saying that he does not care about the debt at all, it would be one thing. But, this president, on current trends, will have brought the deficit down from more than 10 percent of GDP when he took office to around 3 percent when he leaves, during a still tepid recovery (see graph above). What more can these people demand – except, of course, his resignation?

And again, that’s why this episode should not be regarded as anything but a deeply serious political and constitutional crisis. One party is refusing to accept that the other one exists, that not all of America agrees with them, and that democratic norms require compromise in that context.

“Thousands of government workers just got a two-week vacation courtesy of the taxpayers.”

This demonization of government itself, and generalized slur against all those who work for it (and who are also tax-payers) is not just an insult added to injury.

It is another attack on the entire system. As we found out in the fiasco, even Ted Cruz likes government sometimes. For him, it is about keeping monuments open. For other Republicans, it is about scientific research.  And the broader point is that government is the point of politics. There has to be a governing authority that commands universal assent in any functioning democracy. Yes, it should be solvent and run surpluses in peacetime. But it must exist. And conservatism in its proper sense is about governing firmly, securing the rule of law, and sustaining the legitimacy of the democratic system.

What the Tea Party represents, in stark contrast to conservatism, is a radical attack on the very framework of our governing system. It is not right or left within our democratic system. It is a form of secession from it and a de facto abandonment of the notion of one country under one rule of law. It is about sabotage rather than opposition. It is bad enough when one party will seek to sabotage the law of the land – by attempting to rally the public to spurn the new healthcare law, in the hopes of causing it to collapse. But when the dominant faction of one party is bent on sabotaging our democracy, it must not simply be tolerated or appeased the way John Boehner shamefully did. It must be defeated. Anything less is a form of appeasement of forces and ideas that are truly antithetical to the democratic way of life and to constitutional governance.

Yes, in my view, the situation is that grim. If the Republican right’s fanaticism still blinds them to the error of their ways after they nearly destroyed the global economy (and brutally damaged the American one), it becomes clear that only a total collapse of the American government and economy could truly teach them the futility of their deluded aspirations. The rest of us cannot and must not tolerate that. We must draw a line. That line, for those who still believe in the regular order of our democracy, is November 2014.

(Photo: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) answers questions from the media after meeting with Republican senators regarding a bipartisan solution for the pending budget and debt limit impasse at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. By Andrew Burton/Getty.)