The turbulent trajectory the Republican Party sent our nation’s well-being through with the passage of bills that were guaranteed to be rejected in the Senate and cause a government shutdown has most shaking their heads in disbelief.
But this is not the first time a political group filled with intransigent, supposed patriots has tried not only to pollute the waters of moral decency but to blame the group on the side of compassion as the perpetrators of a heinous act.
Called the “Fire-Eaters,” Southern Democrats who staunchly supported the enslavement of African Americans claimed that it was not their perverse belief in the institution of the slavery of blacks or their religious-based racism that would cause war and possible disunion of the United States of America but those who advocated for freedom of black people in America. They further proclaimed that the election of a man like Abraham Lincoln would be the cause of a civil war.
The adept and politically savvy Mr. Lincoln responded to this charge on the campaign trail of 1860 with a metaphor that described how lavishly insipid that kind of thinking was. He told the story of man travelling down the road who is met by an armed robber. “A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear and mutters through his teeth, ‘Stand and deliver or I shall kill you, and then you will be the murderer.'”
Today self-righteous Republican/Tea Party leaders tell anyone who cares to listen that it is not their idea to shut down the government or next week not to increase the debt ceiling; it is the Democrats’.
Yet, much like the robber in Lincoln’s story, the idea that a party can submit unreasonable demands and use the full faith and credit of the U.S. government as a hostage or bargaining chip to obtain what they seek is not only disingenuous but ultimately dangerous to the very essence of democracy, for if this becomes the “new normal,” a strategy that can be used over and over by either party, then we have crossed the Rubicon and are heading for uncharted territory.
Politicians especially should not throw caution to the wind of political fortune and look for that “15 minutes of fame” to promote disingenuous ideology as a platform for their selfish ambitions. When knowledge of cuts in government services because the government is not funded can cause potential harm to the American people, it should be the duty of every legislator to try and prevent that from occurring.
And when legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has been passed into law, signed by President Obama (who was subsequently reelected), and ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court, then there must also be a genuine respect for not only the law but the process that we all must abide by, a process that is our children’s future to preserve, and a process that has to this point helped elevate the United States to the status of a “role model” for democracy in the world, the envy of nations that cannot find the will or the formula to establish a democratic government of their own.
A destination unknown is fraught with peril. While polls might vacillate in coming weeks over which party will receive the most blame, the picking of winners and losers will pale in comparison to the perfidious aftermath of a strategy that uses hostage-taking as a replacement for governing as the founding fathers intended for our country.
Jeffrey R. Moualim lives in Santa Ynez. He is treasurer of the Committee of Ten Thousand, a national grassroots advocacy organization for people with hemophilia, HIV, and HCV, based n Washington, D.C., and Santa Barbara.