MediaMatters is a leftward site. It represents a definite bias. But they document down to a granular level and they are unfailingly accurate.
MediaMatters was begun by David Brock. Brock had made a name for himself writing one exposé after another, frequently targeting Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, and generally all things Clintonian. He wrote investigative pieces about Anita Hill after she was compelled to testify about sexual harassment by a soon to be confirmed Supreme Court nominee.
He wrote all sorts of things about liberal public figures until he got tired of innuendo, spin, and lies. He publicly apologized and wrote about all that tempted him into a vast right wing conspiracy in successive books and articles. It was an exposé with the new target being David Brock himself.
He began MediaMatters in 2004 to carefully unravel conservative falsehoods before they became established urban legends. Exacting documentation became an effective antidote to generalized smears.
Still, if anything is to be learned about those with an agenda, it is to verify, whether you trust or not, before absorbing their words as truth. It isn't difficult with MediaMatters. They really do provide link upon link to document what they quote and what they present as fact.
What they quoted recently was Fox News. Fox recently did a piece on how huge America's welfare has grown. The figures are alarming.
What they presented as fact was Fox News own source, the United States Census Bureau.
Fox claimed that there are substantially more Americans on welfare than there are Americans working at full time jobs. They presented their evidence in graphic form. The chart was startling. A column representing welfare recipients towers far above a much, much smaller column representing working folks.
Here are the numbers:
Welfare - 108.6 Million
Working - 101.7 Million
But MediaMatters helps you look into the actual census figures. Links are provided to each source of Fox figures.
Fox counts as welfare a lot of things we don't usually think of as welfare. Medicaid, school breakfast programs for little kids, some types of veteran pension programs, Social Security supplements, are all grouped together with temporary assistance for needy families, food programs for low-income women raising small children, and other programs for families in need.
Fox counts in those programs, not just those getting benefits, but every member of the household of each person being helped. If you are in a minimum wage job, taking the bus to and from work, and your little kid is in a school breakfast program, you and every member of the household are counted by Fox as being on welfare.
If you are a military veteran getting some benefit from the VA, and also getting a social security supplement, and your kid participates in a breakfast program, you are counted by Fox 3 times and your little kid is counted 3 times, and every member of the household is counted 3 times.
If you have a large household, and every member of that household is working harder than hard to get enough together to support grandma in her illness, and grandma qualifies for some benefit, Fox will count grandma and every member of that large household as being on welfare.
On the other side of the ledger, working people are counted only once. Individuals are counted, not members of the households of those working. If you are working less than 40 hours you are not counted at all, unless you or some member of your household is getting some benefit. In that case, you are considered by Fox as being on welfare. So is everyone in your house.
If our military veteran is you, and you are working full time, that is seen by Fox as one person working, and as 3 people on welfare. Each member of your household is also seen as on welfare. You are outnumbered by yourself. You may want to go to a Fox publicized Tea Party rally as a working person and protest against yourself and your household.
The chart itself represents a more common sort of spin. The bottom 100 million is chopped off the bottom of both columns. Instead of a slightly greater number on the welfare side, that side is shown to be about 8 times as huge as the number of working folks.
It's a technique often used to amplify or exaggerate some comparison. A difference looks more stark if you only show the very top of a bar graph.
If you click on the picture of the graph, you can go to the Media Matters article. You can go to the Census data counting all members of households in which anyone is getting means-tested benefits. And you can go to the census data on individuals who are employed full time.
It's all provided at the site examining what Fox isn't explaining.
And Fox, fellow citizens, is where the conservative bubble gets its view of the world.
Any umpire could have called it. Every fan could see it. The entire game should have been lost at that point. Pretty much everyone is in shock.
It has to be a very tough way for the other side to lose a game, particularly one of this significance, one they know they should have won. And with the entire world watching.
Shock pretty much always comes from a violation of expectation. When the Mets won the World Series in 1969, it was considered a miracle. They were considered by most observers, even by the most partisan fans, to be entirely outclassed by the Baltimore Orioles. When they won, it was a triumph of unsuspected talent. They pulled everything from some hidden reserve of raw ability, and became the "Amazing Mets."
This is different, of course, in a lot of ways.
It's one thing to win with surprising talent, as the underdog, as the Cinderella team. It's quite another to win because the other side is judged to be in violation of a rule they did not even realize they were violating. As far as they were concerned, they were just playing the game as they always had. Only with more drive, more vigor, more dedication.
When a little extra effort is called for, you push yourself a little more. To find that extra effort, going the last mile, that never-say-die effort is rewarded by having it count against you - that has to be a bitter, bitter defeat to swallow.
Okay, we should have been out of the game. The series will continue with one victory on our side that was largely - let's admit it - has been unearned.
The screw up of the Obamacare enrollment website should have ended it. By everything political, it ought to have been a defeat. What were they thinking? The hardship that potential enrollees experience is nearly comical in its absurdity.
But Obamacare is ticking up in popularity, even as the national website crashes. It is a big if, but if the website is up on the new schedule, the entire episode will have gone from disaster to complete victory.
So how did this happen?
It seems that, in the public mind, the key play happened before the technical issues came up. The Republican efforts to bring Obama down finally brought into focus their primary tactic.
The public called it an automatic score for the Obama team because of obstruction, a rule so alien to Republicans they could not believe the call. As far as they were concerned, they had just been playing the game as it was meant to be played.
Republicans put in every last ounce of team effort, stopping government, threatening default, holding the country and the economy hostage. They truly, as Speaker Boehner said, fought what they saw as the good fight.
The public held it against them.
The score went to Obama, in spite of the failure to make it to home plate.
One win does not a series make. The battle is not won.
But it is a significant victory for the home team.
In an odd parallel event, there was also a World Series game decided on the basis of Obstruction.
Republicans Indignant About Invisible Coded Documentation (7:01) - Click for Podcast
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Republicans Reach the Roche Limit of Cosmic Disintegration (5:39) - Click for Podcast
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Obamacare - Bad Guys Save Affordable Care From Good Guys (4:59) - Click for Podcast
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Ted Cruz and the Collapse of the Republican Temple (3:52) - Click for Podcast
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We all remember filling out those forms. It seems like busywork, like something for the file in case someone makes some outrageous claim later on. You tell the very pleasant clerk that you are there for a medical appointment, and you sit for a while filling out forms.
It's like those annual exercises at tax time. The substitute teacher of our younger days, now in the form of the US government, assigns you a test complete with essay. Grading is a bit challenging. If you guess too much you are out of pocket the difference. If you guess too low, you are out of pocket the penalty. Or, if you guess real wrong, prison. If you get the wrong answer on the low side, it had better not be deliberate.
In the doctor's office, the form is number nine or eight or something in the sheaf of paper. Medical questions predominate, but the HIPAA form is the CYA one that kind of stands out. You give the doctor permission to hand out your medical information, but only in specialized situations. Like if another doctor wants it, or legal authorities, or insurance companies, or medical prescription providers, and so on.
HIPAA, for the record, stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, something you're better off not memorizing. It tends to crowd out more relevant facts from the brain, for example that the capital of Montana is still not Hannah. And that your employer does not provide you with French benefits. And you have never in life recited the Pledge of the Legions.
Just remember that HIPAA means a bunch of patient rights, one of which is privacy. Privacy actually means they have to tell you that you give up part of it when you sign.
HIPAA restricts insurance companies as well. When you fill out the medical forms to get health insurance and life insurance, you answer a lot of medical type questions so they know not to cover any pre-existing conditions. If they think you'll get sick, they don't want to cover you.
They can't sell that information to vendors and online Viagra scammers. They can ask doctors for information, just to make sure you're telling the preexisting truth, and doctors usually give it. At least they do if you signed a limited HIPAA privacy release before you got your checkup. Insurance companies get you to sign a form for that information as well.
Corporate entities can do lots of things that don't seem right. They can try to buy elections. They can funnel money through lobbyists that pay for trips and such for members of Congress - thinly disguised bribes. Some folks are asking the Supreme Court to rule that corporations can instruct employees on what birth control they can use, to keep them from violating the corporate conscience. So, presumably, companies can pray. The theory behind all this is that they have the same rights as individual people.
Okay, not every right. There are some things people can do that corporations can't do. Like a company can't marry your daughter, at least not yet.
And .... if a corporation, like an insurance company, violates the HIPAA law, it is a big, big deal. Imagine an insurance company going to prison, maybe even serving time in solitary. You know ... like an individual person?
So the Republican charge yesterday was startling. President Obama's minions were violating the HIPAA laws on patient privacy.
The Congressional hearing was supposedly about why people are having trouble using the internet to get into Obamacare. But that seems to be a hard turn for some Republicans who have always argued that people should never get into Obamacare in the first place. At. All. We demand to know why those folks can't get into the program that we all know will kill them and their grandmothers. No. that is a hard contrast to sell.
So Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) made his charge. Obamacare is not HIPPA compliant. And he had proof in writing. Well ... in printing, actually. It was right there in the source code.
"You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system."
Yup. There it was.
Representative Barton hammered the point relentlessly. "We're telling every American if you sign up for this, or you even attempt to sign up, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. That is a direct contradiction of HIPAA, and you know it."
Only two problems.
First, there is no HIPAA privacy in Obamacare to violate.
There is no medical information involved with enrolling in Obamacare. That's because you are not disqualified for pre-existing conditions, so there is nothing to ask medical questions about. You want to enroll? Sign up. If you can get to the right screen.
Second, the incriminating words about privacy are commented out. In programming school, we used to call that "internal documentation." Programmers put lots of stuff in the code for programmers, only programmers, to read. It makes it easier to correct any bugs if little explanations can be left. "The next 7 lines link to the alternate data table" or some such.
Those comments are invisible to users. Only programmers (or those who know how to look into hidden code) can see them.
Sometimes it is for entertainment or to express a program related opinion. "The next section is kludgy but I couldn't do it any other way" or "This is dumb but that's what the suits say they want".
Every once in a while a programmer might leave a temporary note. "Wanna go for lunch on Wednesday, 12/1/9999" or "Vote for Clinton" or "Leave the Building, Nuclear meltdown is imminent - - Ha Ha" or even "You have no reasonable expectation of privacy..."
Figuring whether something is commented out is not a matter of subjective judgment. It's easy to tell by looking at the code.
Depending on the language, an invisible comment is produced by putting something in front of it, or around it. Like:
/*This code is commented out in SQL*/
-- So is this
-- and this
' This is a comment in VB6
' as is this
<-- This is a comment in HTML
And so is this -->
That last, the commenting in HTML, is what makes invisible what Joe Barton (R-Clueless) was angry about.
This shouldn't have been some obscure technical complexity beyond the reach of Congressional understanding. These guys write the laws and don't understand HIPAA?
Couldn't Republicans have at least gotten one or more of their grandchildren to explain source code to them? They could have put the kids under oath.
Tell the truth or you can't have your daily fix of Oreo Cookies.
Complaining about invisible code is a little like examining Republican integrity these days.
Look as hard as you want. You can't see it.
The staff meeting was somber. The team leader was faced with multiple software issues. He addressed the small gathering. He cautioned us. This must not leave the room. Before we discussed solutions, we had to devise a way to present information to top management, the suits, that would minimize the difficulties.
I raised my hand. Why not deliver the news bluntly and honestly? They would be making important decisions on production scheduling. A lot depended on the suits having accurate information. Besides, the truth would get to them eventually, and it would enhance the reputation of the team leader if it came from him.
Within moments, the amazed staff witnessed an angry shouting match, with the team leader sternly emphasizing the need for team loyalty.
The company eventually failed. Decades now separate me from that experience. I will never understand why the guy was never fired.
Defining with precision the online troubles of Obamacare enrollment is an illusive venture. Hard data is unavailable except on a predetermined schedule. The actual evidence is in the experience available to any individual who wants to try enrolling. It is a universally frustrating experience.
Reports from disparate sources tell us officials were stunned at the scope of the difficulties. Speculation is somewhat varied, but seems to cover all of a limited number of possibilities. With some variation, all reasonable explanations reduce to three: Top officials were remarkably incurious, or they were woefully misled, or both.
Harold Geneen, head of ITT for a generation, is sometimes credited with the axiom "Delegate, Don't Abdicate." A hands off but eyes on approach strikes me as basic.
Somewhere along the way, that did not happen with the development of the computer matrix that was to have handled Obamacare enrollment.
There are a number of circumstances that seem to conspire to minimize the political damage.
The roll out was set for months before enrollment becomes effective, a very smart move in a story that is not notable for smart moves.
All damage, at the moment, is in the eye of the beholder. That beholder's eye is seeing a lot right now. But there is time before January to set things right.
The political damage has been mitigated by pure anger at Republicans.
On-the-other-hand reporting had given low-information voters a pox-on-all-houses view of obstructionism. In the zero sum world of politics, Republicans did not need to care that both houses of the national legislature were declining in popularity. "Senate Fails to Act" or "Progress Blocked in House" fueled a sort of fact free irritation.
Threats to the pocketbook tend to fixate the mind into a powerful focus. As government shutdown and debt default became highlighted, the villains of the drama did not need black hats and evil sneers to draw the wrath of the electorate. Republican officeholders are currently supported by their children, their spouses, and their mamas.
Everyone wants to see good guys win. Even more, audiences like to see bad guys lose. New polls should not be surprising. Obamacare remains a divisive issue, with those opposed and those favoring stabilizing into parity. Those fer and those agin are about equal.
But it is not a real standoff. Half of those opposed to the Health Care law also oppose abolishing it. They seem to want to give it a chance. So half of those who think it won't work still want it to succeed. Ted Cruz has become God's gift to Obamacare.
Even more fundamentally, the debate has shifted. Those who had declared Obamacare a failure, because it would harm anyone so foolish as to participate, now declare the new glitches to be horrible because potential participants are having problems enrolling.
Read that last sentence again, and join me in saying "Huh?"
It is not an anti-Obamacare argument that most Americans seem to find compelling. Did I mention that half of those who don't think the law will work want to be proven wrong?
Even that glitches-show-the-law-is-wrong argument will fade to obscurity if technical issues are resolved. Obama officials need to establish interim, measurable milestones, and they need to find within themselves an insatiable curiosity about progress.
Above all: Delegate, don't abdicate.
One other thing. It concerns honesty in reporting to the suits.
If my one-time team leader is there, he and those with a similar ethic should be - um - encouraged toward a new career path.
Why Republicans Held America Hostage for So Long (4:13) - Click for Podcast
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Speaker John Boehner's Knife Fight with Tony Curtis (5:21) - Click for Podcast
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One Man with a Flag - the Future of a Political Party (5:06) - Click for Podcast
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Republican Constitutional Argument for Shutdown (6:38) - Click for Podcast
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American voters occasionally do suffer short term amnesia. That is one hope Republican politicians have to harbor these days. A hard core group has insisted they are fiscal conservatives. They say no to requiring the extremely wealthy to shoulder the same proportionate tax burden as their secretaries. They insist that their policies, and the motivation for those policies, are to expand economic growth.
Those very people just pulled out of the American economy an estimated 58 billion dollars, and publicly burned it, in order to show they want to cut debt.
Perhaps enough Americans will forget what happened over the last couple of weeks, joined by the arsonist side of the Republican electorate, to keep Republicans in office next year.
For over 80 years, economists have told us that the primary method of getting the country, any country, out of harsh economic times, is a flood of deficit spending.
They have also been trying to educate us about the flip side of the coin. Balancing budgets, retiring government debt should be done during prosperous times.
- Borrow and spend during recessions and depressions.
- Pay it back and then some when you have caught the wave and are riding high.
Those of us with longer term memories may recall that Republicans, when they have been in power, have done pretty much the opposite.
In the beginning days of the presidency of George W. Bush, times were great. The Clinton economic upsurge was paying off the National Debt. Democrats urged the new President to continue retiring the debt. Instead, Republicans pushed through mammoth tax cuts. The surplus disappeared. A huge military invasion with no strategic end compounded the financial issue.
Now that times are hard, Republicans want to suck money out of a still shaky recovery with cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs they derisively call "entitlements."
As Republicans have now delivered to America an economic crisis costing billions, they tell each other it was to save America from debt. They are a wolf in deficit hawk's feathers.
A friend draws a line to cinema. Frank Abagnale is still with us, advising the FBI on financial fraud. He was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio several years ago in the movie Catch Me if You Can. He assumed one false identity after another, leading authorities on a merry chase around the world until he was finally caught.
The connection is applied this way: Republicans had long convinced voters they were the party of capable governance and fiscal responsibility. They are now revealed, at least for a while, as the party united only by their hatreds, especially by their loathing of the current occupant of the White House.
I appreciate the theory, although there are limits to any analogy. It does provide a justifiably cynical perspective on how this artificial crisis began.
A similar analogy might provide a clue about what ended, or at least postponed, the crisis. I look to another imposter from over half a century ago. In fact, Ferdinand Demara was also portrayed in a movie way back when. Tony Curtis played him in The Great Imposter.
President Obama did achieve what he wanted. By all accounts, his private reasoning in demanding unconditional surrender was identical to what he said in public. He could not tolerate, and he would not put future Presidents in a position of having to accept, any small group of lawmakers putting the government and the economy at risk whenever they didn't get their way in free and fair elections. A Hubble like clarity needed to be created for all time. Such tactics would never again succeed. Ever. Not by any group. Not with any President.
It is apparent that Speaker of the House John Boehner was flattened by President Obama. His public press release was defiant. The fight will go on. But what he said less formally was closer to reality from a conservative perspective. It was a noble fight that led to a noble loss. "We fought the good fight, we just didn't win."
But I wonder if, in some way, the final minutes were somehow choreographed by the White House to help out their adversary.
The character from the Tony Curtis movie who reminds me of Representative Boehner is prison inmate Thompson, played by actor Mike Kellin. Thompson gets himself into a desperate situation, holding a knife in confrontation against the smaller DeMara, who is posing as a warden. Speaking softly, DeMara tries coaxing the prisoner into giving up the knife.
Looking around him at the audience of tough inmates, Thompson whispers back. He can't just give up his weapon.
DeMara catches on. "How about if I take it from you?" The prisoner nods. That would be okay.
The fight is brief. It is clear to the movie audience that the prisoner wants the warden to win. The inmate loses the knife to DeMara. But it is the fight itself that allows him to save face with the other prisoners.
Speaker Boehner has reportedly won the support of conservative lawmakers. It seems the leader of House Republicans may not have needed the win.
He needed the fight.
Experts lay out the alternatives
Newt Gingrich explains the Republican position:
And I think the conference believes that this is not a dictatorship. We don't have to automatically do exactly what the president wants.
And the job of the speaker, I think, now is to set up the fight in the best possible way, recognizing that he's going to have substantial elements against him. But emphasizing that he wants to keep the government open, that he wants to help the economy create jobs but that there are significant things that the president simply has to negotiate over.
- Newt Gingrich, on The Situation Room, CNN, September 18, 2013
The policy wishlist of Republicans is impressive. Obamacare is no longer front and center. It has been replaced with stripping down Social Security, canceling parts of Medicare, largely eliminating Medicaid, and reducing or eliminating a host of programs, many designed to feed and educate little kids.
But few lawmakers are talking about specific policies. Some wags are referring to it as a "Seinfeld shutdown" over the one time popular program often said to be about nothing. This is not really a battle over Republican desires to slash Social Security. The actual policy demands are not so much on paper as they are on paper mache.
In fact, it is a battle over battles, the application of power in which the fight is about power.
The current Republican concept of Constitutional power bears little resemblance to what we were taught in grade school. That is not to prove Republicans are wrong. We were taught things about post-Civil War politics that contradict current consensus about basic morality.
When I went to school, lo those many decades ago, we learned that both the Senate and the House of Representatives must pass a bill by a majority. If the President signs it, it becomes a law. If he doesn't, it may also become a law as long as two thirds of both houses vote to make it a law anyway.
But, once it becomes a law, it is a law. Period.
Not everyone sees the process that way. Procedural mechanisms once used to guarantee that all voices are heard are now used to ensure that strength of determination will be considered as well.
Filibusters were used in Jim Crow days to prevent federal laws that would have outlawed the lynching of Black people. Later the tactic delayed basic Civil Rights, like voting or desegregated education. Filibusters were used to hold up legislation that was considered especially contentious.
Now, filibusters are used against pretty much every bill except the naming of post offices or dedicating special honors for exceptional but uncontroversial people. It takes only 41 votes to block legislation in the United States Senate.
Laws that have passed both houses and been signed by the President, what we were taught in ancient schooling, can be overturned by a determined minority of one house. The mechanism can be either a shutdown of all government, or a refusal to pay our bills.
The formulation by the President is that Republicans, having been rejected at the ballot box, are holding the government hostage by shutdown, then holding the economic well being of the nation hostage by debt ceiling. They demand the agenda rejected by voters be enacted anyway.
President Obama says that rule by those who can best create crisis is not a sustainable form of government. He should not have to negotiate over the right of a democratic government to exist. So he will no longer negotiate away the right of voters to elections that have any meaning.
Republicans say that the issue for them goes beyond their previous demand that Obamacare be defunded, or even their current demand that Social Security benefits be partially defunded. The issue is one of basic governance. Besides, Bill Clinton didn't seem to mind negotiating over shutdowns and the debt ceiling.
The Bill Clinton precedent has brought up in a cacophony of Republican voices on news shows and interview programs. It strikes me as an unfortunate example.
Bill Clinton has supported President Obama in this fight. "The negotiations we had were extremely minor. The economy was growing and the deficit was going down. They didn't ask for the store."
Not exactly a line in the sand, I suppose. It's okay to take the economy hostage if the issues aren't that big?
But he does seem to capture what lefties like me see as the essence of contemporary conservatism. He called it "almost spiteful." Entitlements are going down as the economy improves. The deficit has been cut in half since President Obama was elected.
But he goes on to express his matured views of Republicans on substance and on procedure.
If I were the President, I wouldn't negotiate over these draconian cuts that are gonna take food off the table of low-income working people, while they leave all the agricultural subsidies in for high income farmers and everything else. I Just think it's chilling.
This is the House Republicans and the Tea Party people saying we want to dictate over the Senate, over the House Democrats, over the Speaker of the House of our own party, and over the President, we insist on dictating the course of the country.
- Bill Clinton, interviewed by ABC, September 29, 2013
The Seinfeld shutdown is not really over nothing.
The Constitutional question, I suppose, depends on whether a careful reading of our founding documents allows for the veto of existing laws by a determined minority, providing to them the tools of government shutdown and refusal to pay existing bills.
I confess that I cannot find those provisions anywhere in the constitution.
Innocence on Ice - Ryan Ferguson's Decade In Prison (6:22) - Click for Podcast
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Ted Cruz Explains Why Anarchy Does Not Harm Republicans (6:16) - Click for Podcast
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Naval Disaster of 1893 and the Republican Dilemma of 2013 (4:32) - Click for Podcast
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Hating Hispanic Voters and Inviting Their Votes (5:57) - Click for Podcast
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Core Reason for the Shutdown - Fredo's Rage (4:43) - Click for Podcast
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Fredo: I was stepped over! Michael: It's the way Pop wanted it. Fredo: It ain't the way I wanted it!
I can handle things.
I'm smart, not like everyone says, like dumb.
I'm smart, and I want respect.
The Republican shutdown of United States government is fading into default on US debt. And the policy objective is fading into psychobabble.
They began with a demand that Obamacare be dismantled, along with the bold prediction that the President would do just that. To their amazed indignation, that did not happen.
As the beginning stages of the Affordable Care Act went into effect and enrollment started, it became apparent to Republican lawmakers that the dismantling of healthcare was ... well ... impractical. That plan was abandoned.
So the question became one of policy. What, exactly, do Republicans want?
The answer to that was easy for President Obama and for Democrats in government. It does not matter. There will be no negotiations about keeping government open or about keeping the government from defaulting on US debt. Period.
To Republicans themselves, the answer to that question became an amorphous puzzle, a jigsaw with no pieces, the Gordian knot of ancient myth that could not be untangled. What policy are Republicans after, now that it cannot be Obamacare?
Representative Marlin Stutzman tried to answer that, and has been the uncomfortable subject of mirth ever since.
We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.
- Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), Washington Examiner, October 3 2013
If there is any forgiveness in the human heart, it has to be forwarded to Democrats who could not resist such an overpowering temptation.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) offered an apology. "I want to apologize for anything I may have said that disrespected Marlin Stutzman." Then he asked if the American people could have their government back, please. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) joined in the fun, apologizing for not giving the Congressman enough respect. Chuck Shumer (D-NY) offered his apology as well.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) apologized, then wondered if a group hug might console Representative Stutzman, end the shutdown, and put 800,000 workers back earning paychecks.
Marlin Stutzman later tried to backtrack, saying that he had misrepresented the Republican position. But no-one seems to be able to articulate what that position might be. "This is not just about Obamacare anymore," says Stutzman's colleague, Michael Grimm (R-NY).
The shutdown of the government no longer centers on policy issues. The issues are emotional. The question of what Republicans want has transformed into what is troubling them. How can Republicans be healed? What will mollify the rage?
Slate Magazine had some fun asking advice from parenting experts on how to handle tantrums. While post-tantrum tactics vary, one element was unanimous. Don't give in, don't try to mollify.
The anger of Republicans seems less about policy than it is about rejection. The issue of respect has been simmering ever since the election of President Obama in 2008. Then it got worse.
Conservatives were shocked when, contrary to their chosen media outlets, President Obama was elected again by a healthy margin. Even the House Republican majority was elected only by a minority of voters. Most voters did not want Republicans in control of the Presidency, the Senate, or the House.
How dare they!
The anger is no longer about policy. The rage is not even about any disrespectful treatment by Democrats. The eruption continues because Barack Obama is still in the White House. Republicans are furious at voters, enraged by America.
The shutdown is not a child throwing a tantrum. It is Fredo lashing out at the Corleone family for not choosing him.
I was stepped over!
It's the way Pop wanted it.
It ain't the way I wanted it!
Republicans were stepped over. That's the way the voters wanted it. But that ain't the way Republicans wanted it!
My Grandmother Was Lucky Not To Know Dana Perino (5:24) - Click for Podcast
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Gov Christie on Marriage, Popular Sovereignty, Majority Rule (3:37) - Click for Podcast
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How the Republican House Cabal Took Control (4:57) - Click for Podcast
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In 1972, the fight between Democrats and Republicans was prolonged.
Democrats wanted a small increase in Social Security retirement benefits. This was so small it would do nothing more than cover increases in the cost of living. It seems unfair to count as an increase anything that does not go beyond inflation.
But Republicans fought against it. President Nixon joined in. He told Democrats that he would veto any increase in Social Security benefits.
Finally, a bit of horse trading ended in a compromise.
Nixon got funding for a pilot project that he hoped might replace temporary welfare programs with a negative income tax. A small guaranteed income would be provided to every family. The amount would slowly decrease as a family's income rose. Liberals were intrigued but skeptical. The support was in borderline starvation amounts.
But Democrats wanted seniors to be able to live as their costs rose.
Nixon, like many conservatives, hated Social Security. Privatization schemes, reductions, conversions, all still come at us as Republican proposals. The motivation remains. It is a core hostility to the program itself.
But Nixon swallowed his opposition to the tiny increase in exchange for funding his experiment in ending welfare. He reluctantly held back from vetoing and allowed the cost-of-living increase.
When seniors got their checks there was a note included. It pointed out the increase that had come as a result of President Nixon signing it into law. Congratulations. Look at what the President had provided.
Yup. President Nixon had just taken credit for the increase that he and the Republican Party had so bitterly fought against.
I thought of President Nixon's bold move to deceive those seniors whom Republicans had worked so hard to screw over as I watched again and again the video of Congressman Randy Neugebauer berating a Park Ranger.
It occurred to me that I was watching the flip side of a drama played out 40 years ago. Back then, President Nixon tried to take credit for what Republicans had scratched and clawed to prevent. This week it was a Congressman kicking at an underling to avoid taking credit for what Republicans had done at the urging of right wing extremists.
The Ranger was following orders she had received to obey the government shutdown that Republicans had ordered. Randy Neugebauer had voted with his fellow Republicans.
It was at the World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall. As cameras rolled, Congressman Randy Neugebauer was on the scene to beat up on the lone Park Ranger for telling veterans they could not go in.
There is something iconic about the entire scene. A Republican insists that government be allowed to open only when and if President Obama shuts down Obamacare. Then he publicly scolds a Park Ranger as if she personally had ordered the shutdown he voted for.
"How do you, how do you, look at them and say", he sputters, "How do you deny them access? I don't get that."
The Park Ranger, standing at attention, responds politely. "It's difficult."
But the Congressman is having none of it, polite or not. "Well," he says, "it should be difficult."
The Ranger maintains professional empathy for those she must turn away. "It is difficult. I'm sorry sir."
The Congressman is not finished. "The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves".
The Ranger responds evenly. "I'm not ashamed."
Representative Neugebauer insists on the indignant last word. "Well you should be." Then he turns his back on her. The conversation is ended.
Well, almost ended.
A man steps out of nowhere and defends the Ranger. "This woman is doing her job, just like me," he says. This is unexpected. The Congressman is taken aback. This was supposed to be an easy photo-op. "I'm a 30-year federal veteran," the man says. "I'm out of work."
The Congressman is ready, though. The response has been rehearsed by Republicans all day. He jabs his finger at the man. "Well, the reason you are is because Reid decided to shut down the government," he begins.
But the man immediately answers. "No, it's because the government won't do its job and pass a budget."
The largely unnoticed part of the video is the part I think says almost as much as a member of Congress berating and demeaning a federal employee whose response is to take the abuse.
The man gets as far as "No, it's because" before he's talking to the Congressman's back. The Congressman can be seen walking quickly away as the man calls after him what the Congressman does not want to hear. "...the government won't do its job and pass a budget."
Berating a low level employee for problems Republicans have caused, refusing to hear out a citizen who voices disagreement, turning his back and walking away.
It is the image many of us are forming of contemporary Republicanism.
Are the cameras running?
Let's find someone who can't fight back, someone to beat down for the evening news.
This has become less a party of principle than a party of posturing.
It is now composed of politicians less interested in adopting positions than in adopting poses.
Offering Obamacare in 150 languages is absurd. If someone can't speak enough English to fill in forms, what will they explain to a doctor?
- Dana Perino, Fox News Contributor, via Twitter, October 1, 2013
We lose so many details of those from whom we came. What I know of my grandmother comes from dim and faulty memory combined with distant family lore. She died before I was ten.
I know Marie came from the Ukraine as a young woman. I have a sense that it was around the time of World War I. It was called the Great War then, in a time before we knew we had to number them. She was fleeing a forced marriage.
She arrived in New York City without much knowledge of America's customs and laws. She spoke no English. She must have found others who spoke her language. She somehow got word that the man to whom she had been promised had come looking for her.
She avoided the authorities. She had no way of knowing whether they would hand her to the man who felt he owned her, the one to whom she had been promised. And people in her part of Europe carried a long tradition, one that came from generations of unfortunate experience. Survival dictated staying away from police.
I remember a story. I believe it is accurate, as far as I can take it. I'm not sure whether it came from my own momma. The words have faded from my mind. I have an image of a young Marie, lost in the largest city on earth, bewildered by the labyrinth of streets, not knowing the language, afraid to talk with police who could be seen at every few intersections. She somehow found her way back without help.
After she was told she was being pursued by the man she did not love, she migrated out of New York, following the waterways, the Hudson River, then the Barge Canal, finally finding refuge in a small community outside of Syracuse. She met and married a fellow Ukrainian. They raised a family.
I know nearly nothing of my grandfather. He served in the Polish army. That is consistent with my understanding of history. Poland expanded and contracted over time in a sort of historical oscillation. He died when my mother was five.
Every once in a while, I will think of my grandmother. She was little more than a shadow in my memory for decades. I remember her from my childhood, when she lived with my parents. I remember my mother translating for her. For some reason, she comes to my mind more often, now that I have come to an age I once thought of as near elderly.
Every once in a while some remark or incident brings me to her. I thought of my grandmother as I read of the eugenic theories of Republican Steve King. He tells audiences America's greatness comes from making life hard for immigrants, so only the strong make it to bear children. I suspect that, like her, many immigrants bring to our shores something Steve King will never know. It is not a stronger genetic disposition borne of a weeding out, but a brave tradition of adventure and an intolerance for oppression. My imagination tells me my grandmother would not care for Steve King.
The "English Only" folks who would limit benefits and rights, even restaurant service, to those who speak "American" remind me of Marie, who never could speak English. That is how Dana Perino brought her to my mind again.
We all know such anti-immigrant discussion does not really target my grandmother. It is an often darker, closer, Spanish speaking part of humanity that suffers the wrath of nativists. Were she alive now, she would be only collaterally injured by proposed policies aimed at others.
Dana Perino, who imagines that my grandmother could never have been treated by a doctor, was the Press Secretary to a President of the United States. Steve King, who believes America is strong because life was made harder for folks like young Marie, is a member of the United States House of Representatives.
Perhaps my reaction can be ascribed to simple ancestral pride. I don't sense a pride that is tied to ancestry or restricted to family. But I have to believe the brave young woman who left her home and homeland, her friends and her family, everything she had ever known and loved, on a mad dash for freedom, deserves more admiration than most of those who live in comfort and judge those in other parts of the world as their natural inferiors.
Years after my grandmother died, my mother mentioned an incident that stayed with me. My parents were talking quietly about the day's events, sharing their lives, while my mother's mother listened, interested but without comprehending.
My dad left, I suppose on some errand. Marie spoke to her daughter in Ukrainian. Wondering if they been talking about her, she asked if she should move out.
My mom called to my dad and told him what her mother had just asked. My parents embraced my grandmother together, while my momma whispered reassurance and love.
We are taught to hate the sin and love the sinner, to hate the bite and not the biter. Still, it is not easy for me to be around those who speak of language differences as a natural barrier meant to keep people out, one more way God makes sure America stays the same.
The Marie I barely met and never knew proves otherwise.