Sunday, September 29, 2013

Government As Circus. Bring On The Clowns

"All The Republicans Want For Not Destroying The Economy Is Everything"


"Republican Rule And Economic Catastrophe"


Congress Cracks Up

Our challenge today is to explain how Congress evolved into our national nutcase.

Gail Collins

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Readers’ Comments

I am thinking mainly of the House Republicans. Back in the good old days, last week, these were the guys who said they would vote to raise the debt ceiling only if Obamacare was axed and the Keystone XL pipeline was built.
Ah, last week. Giants strode the earth last week. Last week our nation was governed by men and women who were, as a matter of principle, willing to pay the nation’s creditors when the bills were due just as long as the president canceled his central domestic initiative and oil shippers got a new pipe.
But that was then. This week the House Republican leaders were looking at a long, long list of must-haves that also included changes in regulations relating to coal ash, reduction in Civil Service pensions, restrictions on malpractice suits and an end to some greenhouse gas regulations.
And their members found that list too restrictive. Behind-the-scenes discussion continued about more things the Republicans could demand. A ban on late-term abortions? A trillion-dollar budget cut? Bring back the gold standard? Bring back the bustle? It’s 2013 and anything is possible.
So, what do you think is wrong with these people? Thanks to gerrymandered Congressional districts and the Tea Party, we do seem to have a surprising number of elected officials who actually don’t believe that raising the debt limit so the government can pay its bills is a good plan. (“All that does is just say: ‘Well, you’ve got a little bit more credit — keep spending,’ ” Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina once told a radio interviewer.)
But there’s got to be more to it than that. Let’s try to think of three other reasons the United States Congress continues to behave as if it’s playing the Jack Nicholson part in “The Shining.” I’ll go first.
1. The Republicans are desperately, obsessively demonizing Obamacare to cover up the fact that they don’t want to do anything to Medicare or Social Security. Those used to be the party’s obsession — remember privatizing Social Security? But that was before they noticed that the entire Republican base is on Social Security.
Ranting about Obamacare, which one New Hampshire politician recently compared to the Fugitive Slave Act, is an excellent way to give the impression that you’re fighting to reduce entitlements without having to do anything about the actual entitlements.
2. It’s all about Twitter. Social media have transformed Congress’s younger generation. (While much of the Senate is arguably too old to know how to use the TV remote, three of the four leaders of this week’s faux filibuster are 42.) Twitter in particular makes politicians even more self-obsessed than they used to be. “Talking about tomorrow’s #DefundObamacare vote tonight on Hannity. Be sure to tune in!” twittered Senator Ted Cruz on Thursday.
Cruz kept demanding that the Senate “listen to the American people,” but he really meant that they should listen to his Twitter followers. A politician riding on a wave of tweets feels as if the nation is cheering his every word, even when the nation is actually reading the sports page while a select splinter of hard-core supporters manically pound away on their smartphones. A hundred thousand people cheering you on in the social media feels like a mass movement. But this is a gigantic country. You can find 100,000 people who believe in a secret plot by Belgium to corner the market on beetroot.
Richard Baker, the co-author of “The American Senate,” says the late Senator Robert Byrd waged a war against cellphones on the Senate floor: “When he entered the room, there was this whooshing under the desks.” But Byrd is gone, and now we have Ted Cruz.
3. Zombie apocalypse. Only possible explanation.
On Friday, the Senate finally managed to vote to keep the government running until mid-November, when we’d get to do this all over again. It’s now up to the House, which will be having an unusual working weekend while the Republicans decide whether to pass the Senate bill and move on, or festoon it with anti-Obamacare amendments.
The majority whip, Kevin McCarthy, suggested that his colleagues might want to join him for an evening showing of the movie “Prisoners.” One Republican aide worried that the media might read too much into the title, what with the country being held hostage to the House’s current psychosis and all. The media are actually disappointed that McCarthy passed up “Insidious” and “Despicable Me.”
Cynics would say that keeping the government going for a few more weeks is just the kind of modest, uncontroversial proposal that automatically vanishes into the black hole that is the current House of Representatives. But maybe there’s hope. After all, on Friday the House members did show they could pass legislation in a purposeful, bipartisan fashion. They approved a bill naming a building in Virginia after a deceased federal worker.
    • Jerry McTigue
    • Fairfield, CT
    NYT Pick
    The G.O.P. is crazy like a fox. In all this shut-down hubbub, last week's gun slaughter at the Navy yard has been all but forgotten, and any opportunity to advocate for new gun legislation neatly shunted aside.

    With fiscal crisis after fiscal crisis, Republicans can decoy, distract and run out the clock on issues like immigration, education reform, global warming, and others. And may even extort some concessions with their gun-to-the-head budget tactics.

    I think that's the House conservatives' main strategy. Sludge up the works as much as they can, take as many meaningless votes as they can, take as many recesses as they can, and if they end the two-year session with no significant legislation damaging to their selfish interests, they can return home victorious. And their uninformed constituents, snookered once again, will in their ignorance send them back for another term, angry and bitter at something they just can't put their finger on.
      • Larry Crittenden
      • Michigan
      NYT Pick
      How have grown men and women become so hysterical about an attempt to provide health care coverage at reasonable rates? Instead of proposing amendments or alternatives they threaten to shut down government or skip out on our creditors, or both.

      We have a dysfunctional government - - the kind that we used to mock. It is full of small, petty people who cater to campaign funding sources and political zealots who are greedy, cruel, and unable to see the irony in their own beliefs. (I'm pretty sure that Jesus wouldn't want us to starve children by cutting off food stamps, but that's how some in Congress have explained their vote.)

      Sadly, these people are there because we sent them, so we share the blame for their hateful attitudes and actions.
        • Gene Amparo
        • Sacramento, CA
        NYT Pick
        If it were just a Twitter contest, Obama with 37,137,285 followers should beat Ted Cruz with 143,307 followers. But how do you explain complex issues like the national debt and the Affordable Care Act in 140-character tweets? Americans fail to understand either and Ted Cruz and company intentionally misinform them regarding both.

        Besides Twitter, I also blame reality shows that reward bad behavior with good ratings. How else does a senator who has been in the office only nine months get so much national attention? If Ted Cruz succeeds he will have proved that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

        Finally, I blame 30-second TV ads which reach more Americans than NYT news and facts and are tailored to our short attention spans. A young woman goes to the doctor and a creepy Uncle Sam wields a speculum to perform a vaginal exam on her; that's Obamacare.

        Citizens who depend on 140-character tweets or 30-second TV ads for their source of information on national issues get the "nutcase" politicians they deserve.
          • cbl
          • Washington DC
          NYT Pick
          Ah, the Zombie Apocalypse - I had forgotten that one.

          Perhaps the more prosaic reasons are connected with the same forces that Gibbon noted in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire centuries ago. An explosion of millennial cults (how else to explain the Tea Party's sudden rise?), the loss of empire as the barbarians re-take the periphery (check, definitely), a civilization too huge to manage properly, but most important, the lack of an adequate response to decline. A proud tradition of republican (little 'r') statesmanship and consensus being pushed aside to make way for rule by cruel, degenerate fools and a rabble kept at bay and in ignorance through an endless parade of bread and circuses.

          The circuses rule today as never before, parading the thrill of governmental train wrecks 24/7. No ego is apparently too wretched or too shamed not to profit from it all through the simple ability to type.
            • ACA
            • Providence, RI
            NYT Pick
            I am surprised at how little has been written about the practical implications of a government shutdown. Apparently members of Republican members of congress feel they can forego their paychecks. As the son of a former middle management federal worker with kids in school (me for one) and a mortgage to pay, I'm not sure how many other federal workers can say this. During this shutdown, presumably key federal workers are supposed to volunteer their efforts until this matter is resolved. This means our entire armed forces, some of whom are still in the field and who are now supposed to risk going out and getting shot in the name of a government that refuses to pay them. And what happens when they start running out of food, fuel and ammunition? Or when VA hospitals run out of supplies? Do they transfer patients to other hospitals with a vague promise of payment? How much of the health care sector will go under when Medicare payments stop? How many hospitals and health care providers can survive this and for how long? Our diplomatic corps and intelligence community will presumably volunteer for a while, but how about the security and support staff? Or for congress or the White House. Will any Federal installation be safe? And what sensitive negotiations and operations stop? One message from the Oklahoma city bombing was that however attractive rants about the government are, the conversation changes when people get hurt. Time to change the conversation.
              • kenneth the capitalist
              • CT expat
              NYT Pick
              Hey, I'm a lifetime Republican of the old-fashioned New England variety and I frankly don't recognize the party any more. Ted Cruz? Yikes! Sarah Palin? Double yikes! Rush Limbaugh labels people like me as "RINO" which I wear as a badge of honor.

              But as to the Democrats, this crowd has been taken over by the progressives who for the past three or four decades were marginalized within their own party caucus. Now that the old farts in the middle have mostly faded away, they need some serious adult supervision--like the college kid getting a credit card for the first time and being told, "Now watch your spending." Ya, hello.

              I'll patiently wait in the middle of the road for something wonderful to happen between these two polar opposites but somehow I feel major roadkill coming on for the country.
                • Tom Norris
                • Florida
                NYT Pick
                You observe: "A politician riding on a wave of tweets feels as if the nation is cheering his every word, even when the nation is actually reading the sports page while a select splinter of hard-core supporters manically pound away on their smartphones."

                Good point. Someone much smarter than me has said that social media just reinforces what you already know or think or like or want. Since politicians love to play to the crowd, they now have an automatic cheering section they can carry around on their smart phone.

                Like the discovery of fire, or the more recent discovery of electricity, I guess we'll also learn to master the new media without figuratively burning the house down or electrocuting ourselves--or throwing a monkey wrench into the democratic process.
                  • AmericanAbroad
                  • Toronto, ON
                  NYT Pick
                  Here's my wish: that John Boehner focus on building a coalition of non-insane House Republicans to make a radical break with their Tea Party colleagues and offer Democrats a deal they can't refuse. No single House Republican can do this, because Tea Party money from the Koch brothers will be used to annihilate them in the next Republican primary. Our only hope, as a nation, is safety in numbers: for so many non-insane Republicans to stand up to the bullies on their fringe that not even the Koch brothers will want to spent what it takes to buy the next election.
                    • Red
                    • New Hampshire
                    NYT Pick
                    As a Belgian American, I strongly object to the insinuation that Belgium is conspiring to monopolize the sale of beetroot. It's endives, not beetroot.
                      • JS
                      • Boston
                      NYT Pick
                      I am shocked that there is a secret plot by Belgium to corner the market on beetroot. Thank you Gail for exposing it. We clearly need to attach a rider to the budget bill to deal with this outrage. It would be better to shut down the government that letting this crime against future generations continue. Since you have exposed it this must be a right wing conspiracy led by Ted Cruz. Besides only he would be crazy enough to think this up. Please use hash tag #beetrootconspiracy to tweet about this issue.


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