Consider briefly this sentence:
“A democratic political system cannot long endure a situation in which virtually every issue becomes magnified to an ideological contest over ultimate meanings.”
It comes from a book I was reading for my course on Weimar Germany. The fact that it applies well to modern Washington is just a sad coincidence.
Yes, that is the situation that this country has found itself in yet again. The most thought-provoking sentence I have yet read on the battle over a possible government shutdown was initially meant to analyze a republic in which “Mein Kampf” was a best-seller.
Now, it is important not to read too much into this analogy. The USA is not Weimar and lazy historical analogies tend to obscure more than they enlighten.
But it’s difficult to not see at least some parallel to our present-day Congress as it continues to move closer to hitting the fiscal brink. Battles over raising the debt ceiling (which is to say, battles over whether or not we should unleash economic destruction on ourselves) were previously only over the issue of debt itself.
Allowing Washington to be shutdown over an issue like healthcare reform creates a dangerous precedent. What is to stop a future Congress, including possibly a Democratic one, from hijacking government over one of their pet issues in the same way?
Debating the destruction of the full faith and credit of the United States has become an acceptable political tactic in DC. This time it may be theoretically about Obamacare, but you shouldn’t be deceived.
This fight is not really about Obamacare at all. Polls have consistently shown that Americans do support most of the provisions of the bill. It is only the nebulous and terrifying “Obamacare” as a concept that they don’t like.
The central issue is creeping nihilism in a subset of the Republican Party. The Republican Party has always had a vision for this country. A vision many have disagreed with, to be sure, but a vision nonetheless.
Yet this battle is not about jobs, the Constitution, keeping America safe or any one of the positive values that used to animate the GOP. It is about ensuring that President Obama accomplishes as little of his agenda as possible no matter what the cost.
The initial passage of the Affordable Care Act showed that it was the will of the American people, as represented by Congress, that this law be put in place. If the American people want to get rid of it at some point, they will elect congressmen who want to do so and a majority of both houses will vote to remove it. That is how democracy functions.
The one bright light in all of this is that the overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans have come out to send the unambiguous message that it is childish and dangerous to derail the democratic process because you didn’t get what you wanted. Let’s hope that the message gets through.