There were many competing moments during the rally. A few Republicans hoped the protest would provide a much needed spark to revive the conservative movement. Instead, there was one sad exhibit after another.
Speakers yelled for impeachment, called the President a foreign agent, hollered for Barack Obama to put down his Quran, shouted for him to go back to Kenya, screamed for his arrest.
Uniformed police officers keeping protestors from crashing White House security lines were harassed as "brown shirts," referred to as "something out of Kenya."
Out of many potential icons, the one image that seems to have captured the moment was that of a single participant carrying a large Confederate flag.
One protestor does not a stereotype make. Certainly, there have been isolated individuals in left wing demonstrations of the past that have provided horrible visions to the public. I remember the concerns of the police chief of the small community in which I attended college as we worked out the conditions of a permit for an anti-war demonstration in the early 1970s.
But, in this case, there seems not to have been a murmur of disagreement with the racist symbol. Not one Republican speaker was concerned enough to create any distance from the shouted slurs and iconic symbols.
It is now difficult to find many references to the protest without seeing that Confederate flag. It is everywhere.
Adam Gopnik of New Yorker magazine suggests that Tea Party conservatism is not a modern phenomenon. He traces it back to before the Kennedy assassination. The first one, before we knew there would be another.
Andrew Sullivan posts a "Wanted for Treason" handbill with President Kennedy's image. It was handed out in Dallas the day before Dealey Plaza came to be viewed in national publications as through a rifle sight.
Others look to geographic strength and conclude the Tea Party has antecedents going further back: a resurgence of the slave holding South, with racial resentments passed down through generations like a malignant heirloom.
The current governmental hostage taking is commonly described as the major cause of sudden Republican decline. It is more accurately seen as part of a larger process, driven by technology. The informational cocoon now offered by the internet, by cable, and by traditional low cost local radio outlets allow conservatives to shield themselves from any call for change.
The bubble ensures the Republican Party will continue to shrink as insufficiently extreme conservatives leave under a cloud of hostility. Those extreme enough to stay ensure the rightward race of the party will accelerate.
By all that is right and holy and symmetrical, Democrats should be victim to the same process. But they seem to remain as constant as the Northern Star, just a little to the left of the American center. Leftward extremists exist, but they do not control. Speculation can be offered, but no firm answer emerges. We know only that the trend is decidedly one sided.
When the Republican party was dominant, I suggested, to the mirth of valued friends, that it would disappear as a significant force by the end of this decade. It is true that the current slump will reverse as ebb goes to flow. Pendulums do swing. But each wave for Republicans will be a little weaker at the crest, a little lower at the nadir. Waves come and go. The underlying tide continues.
The future seems clear. But a clear vision of the future is often wrong.
It is possible that one more unexpected electoral defeat will encourage moderates to reverse direction and journey back home. It is more possible than plausible.
Moneyed interest may force the genie back into the bottle as a party in death throes lurches into more dangerous activity. Playing with explosives endangers more than those who play. Those with means may use that means to rein in extremists.
One bit of evidence against that proposition is the seeming lack of control now exercised by former financial backers. Those who ride the tiger are becoming uncomfortably aware of teeth.
Conservatives will go somewhere, of course. They will not simply disappear. A large majority of Americans wish passively for a third party. Who can blame them just now? How many will act upon this currently passive wish?
The man with the Confederate flag will stay with the party right to the point of Republican singularity, the moment when membership will number literally in the tens.
He represents more than a powerful conservative past of slavery and segregation.
The man with the flag stands proudly as the future of a party that once fought against all that flag represented. The Confederate flag leads the faithful to a destiny of regional end pieces, cheap remnants of a once beautiful tapestry.
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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The most important fact about the murder case remains the murder. The loss of a life is irrevocable. Everything was taken from the victim, all that he had, all that he might have accomplished or become.
The lessor crime is more substantial than anything most of us will experience as long as life remains within us. An innocent man remains in prison. Three networks have provided special coverage, researching his conviction. The consensus among experts not directly involved in the case is that his time in prison is a gross injustice.
Ryan Ferguson was convicted in 2004 for the murder of a popular local sportswriter in Columbia, Missouri. On Halloween night in 2001, Kent Heitholt worked late, wrapping up and heading for his car. He made it to the parking lot where his life was taken. He was attacked and killed.
Two years later, after seeing a retrospective news article, a young man with a history of drug use told acquaintances that he was having dreams about the incident. His substance abuse had resulted in huge periods of blacking out. He wondered if he had been involved in the killing during one of those bouts of drug induced amnesia.
That brought in the police. Much of the series of interview is recorded. The young man can be seen and heard, confused and unknowing of details, as information is given to him. As the education provided to him by interrogators about the specifics of the murder takes hold, he becomes more certain. Implied threats about ultimate penalties fortifies his resolve.
He confesses and names an accomplice, the one former high school classmate who had befriended him. And so that friend, Ryan Ferguson, is arrested and tried for the murder.
A janitor who had worked in the building on the night of the murder corroborates the confession. He saw the two teens in the parking lot around the time of the murder. One had yelled to him to call for help, that someone had been injured.
Young Ryan Ferguson is convicted.
Nine years later, earlier this year, at a hearing of an appeal of the conviction, national experts testify about how screwed up the interrogation had been. You don't give a frightened youngster secret details. You hold those back to confirm or discredit his confession.
The drug using dreamer tells the appeals court that he lied in his confession. He had blacked out that night and, aside from his dreams, he had never had any idea where he had gone or what he had done. He apologizes for lying. He was scared, he says, by the prosecutor, who spoke to him about ultimate penalties, who told him his friend had already confessed and accused him of committing the crime. Confess or face the ultimate penalty.
The janitor also testifies. Appeals Court is usually not the scene of drama. Reviews of transcripts and procedures provide pretty dry material. This is an exception. The janitor was a sex offender. He now says the prosecutor had suggested that the right story would prove to be helpful.
The janitor points at Ryan Ferguson and apologizes for having lied nine years before. Under oath, he asks for forgiveness.
There was DNA evidence. The victim had in his clenched fist a few human hairs, not his own. Testing revealed the hair did not belong to Ryan Ferguson or his drug sodden friend.
The prosecutor also testifies. He is now a judge, having won his place on the bench mostly because of the conviction of the two boys. He explains to the presiding judge, his friend and associate, that he would never have actually directed anyone to lie under oath.
Oddly enough, this is not because of a burning desire for justice. It is because he would not want to damage his reputation. Appearances are everything to some folks.
Astonishingly, the judge upholds the conviction. Every bit of evidence that led to that conviction has vanished in the cold glare of careful examination. But in America's system of justice, a verdict itself becomes its own evidence.
A full appeals court is considering the case. Missouri's Attorney General has filed a brief. The Attorney General opposes overturning the conviction and supports the prosecutor who is now a judge. The logic is strange.
The drug using teen's recantation cannot be believed because guilty people are always claiming innocence. Forget the experts who say otherwise. Common sense should rule.
The janitor was so obviously lying during the original trial that the jury could not have believed him. That means his lies did not influence the verdict. Besides, the janitor who was obviously lying during the original trial was telling the truth in the original trial.
This bit of quantum reasoning might work on a sub-atomic level. But, in the real world, courts probably should not rely on Erwin Schrödinger's cat being both dead and alive.
And finally, this. Innocence, says the brief, should not matter. Letting an innocent man go free for no reason other than that he did not commit the crime would be, well, unacceptable.
I became interested in this case a few years ago when I was contacted at Sunday service by a fellow worshiper. She knew some of the personalities and had become convinced that false testimony was involved.
The injustice has attracted national attention. There is no evidence that points to Ryan Ferguson, none, except what has been thoroughly discredited.
Tragic devastation disrupts life. Accidents, illness, and natural forces sometimes kill. We mourn.
Injustice is sometimes worse. It gnaws at the human soul. And so we grasp at little bits of hope. Last night, we watched yet another televised program, this time on ABC's Nightline. Legal expert Dan Abrams now joins others, expecting a reversal of the conviction. What other outcome can be supported? His legal opinion is to be respected.
Legal opinions, even well founded legal opinions, are not legal decisions. We have been down this road before. So hope has to be diluted with realism. Reasoned justice can fall short when it collides with influence.
A former prosecutor who is now a Missouri Circuit Court Judge may carry enough influence to make justice fall short again.
A new poll shows why the Republican Party is spiraling toward extinction.
No, no. Not THAT poll.
It is true that the Gallop organization shows the Republican Party to be less popular than either party at any point in history since the question was first asked a generation ago. Welcome to the world of government shutdown and debt default.
The disdain voters are expressing toward Republican politicians, the seething anger at the game playing and hostage taking, will fade with time as the shutdown is ended and default is paid back.
The credit rating of the country will be downgraded, interest rates will rise, more good people will be thrown out of work, and more of the needy will be without food and shelter. But accountability for social and economic harm tends to become diffuse. Voters blame whomever they see in leadership.
Dramatic as it is, Gallop becomes significant only because the latest poll offers a single data point that is part of a pattern that extends from the waning days of the Reagan administration. The ebb and flow of politics can obscure a long term trend. Since the late 1980s, Republican victories have gone from strong to not-so-strong to bare pluralities. Democratic victory margins have steadily increased.
Republican popularity this week dropped to 28 percent. Kevin Drum suggests that, when it comes to voting, a core conservative base of 27% will go with the clearly crazy choice out of mindless partisanship. So just one percent of those voters willing to make a sane choice have warm fuzzy feelings toward Republicans.
The logic itself is tongue in cheek. It is based on the Illinois US Senate election of 2004. Republican Alan Keyes ran the most extreme, insane, incoherent race ever against unknown candidate Barack Obama. Both candidates were black, which tended to neutralize race as an overt factor. Keyes got 27% of the vote. Since Illinois has historically been a bellwether, the 27% figure can serve as a baseline.
Not what you would call rigorous science, but it does highlight how low Republicans have gone.
Actually, that 28 percent will go up with the next wave, then go down again with the next ebb. Republicans will win again, if not in 2014 then in a later election. But, as Republican victories become more difficult, and losses become greater, the tide will become apparent to the naked eye. It is already measurable.
Democrats have gotten the most votes in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. That single exception came in 2004. National revulsion against the terrorist attack of 2001 rallied voters toward the President who was waging the fight against the attackers. It was the only time since 1988 a Republican candidate for President got more votes than the Democrat.
This trend is not mysterious. The Republican Party has become increasingly extreme since the days of Eisenhower. In the past, extreme parties have reacted to election battering by obeying the siren call of the middle. Extremists were curbed, moderates were emboldened, and political parties recovered and prevailed.
It has happened to Democrats in the past, and to Republicans before this last generation. It has happened to other parties in other countries. It is a painful process brought on by unwanted reality..
But something has changed, at least for Republicans. There is no lasting clarion call to moderation. In fact Republicans have grown more extreme. This has caused the party to shrink as moderates, then those thought to be insufficiently extreme, have been forced out. As they left, those extreme enough to stay gathered more influence within the tightening circle. And so the process became a continuous pattern.
At the root, the break with previous patterns is technological. The internet and cable news have joined with talk radio and traditional random outlets to form a total environmental cocoon that can be adjusted to any individual. No outside interference is needed. Unpleasant interpretation of events can be screened out.
Conservative Julian Sanchez of Cato Institute calls it "epistemic closure." A sustainable belief system that is supported by a complete but selective set of information can exist completely apart of unwanted challenge. Conservatives don't need to know that alternative news or views even exist.
This bubble means conservatives never have to hear the call to elective victory. It is like an alcoholic surrounding himself with a support group telling him lots of booze is good for you.
Which brings us to the poll that tells us more than Gallop.
Sen. Ted Cruz during a closed-door lunch on Wednesday argued to his Republican colleagues that the campaign he led to defund Obamacare has bolstered the GOP’s political position in dealing with the government shutdown.
Republicans who attended the weekly lunch hosted by Senate conservatives confirmed that Cruz presented a poll that the Texan paid for.
- The Washington Examiner, October 9, 2013
The poll showed that lots of voters know the aim of the obstruction is to defund Obamacare. While more voters, by a wide margin, blame Republicans than President Obama for the shutdown, the margin is not as bad as it was during the last Republican shutdown 18 years ago. The 18 year old poll was in November 1995.
Yeah, that's the reasoning that compels Republican lawmakers to continue following the Ted Cruz strategy. We're not wounding ourselves as severely as last time we tried a shutdown.
The uncritical minds that see no humor in that logic are stopping basic functions of government. Not included in the report was whether anyone completed that formulation.
The last time we tried a shutdown, we were hurt a lot worse than this.
All we're asking for is a chance.
When I was a kid, I came across an old book, pages yellowed, binder deteriorating. The pages were in order, and the book was readable.
I thought the chapter I found was about a military investigation. I had no idea it concerned the Republican Party several decades in the future.
I no longer recall the title or the overall topic of the book. My retrospective guess is that it was some sort of naval history. The part I do remember was an account of an investigation of a fatal accident in 1893. Britain's Royal Navy conducted a court martial, partly to decypher what had gone wrong.
Two battleships had collided, the Camperdown and the Victoria. HMS Victoria sank. 358 sailors died, including the commander of the Mediteranean fleet, Vice-Admiral George Tryon.
Tryon was a demanding officer. He did not tolerate dissent. If his orders were not followed with precision, there would be hell to pay.
Radio communication was still a future development. The fleet relied on flags and lights to relay orders.
Eleven ships navigated into two parallel lines. It must have been an impressive sight in those days. Britain was still said to rule the seas. On signal, the two lead ships turned toward each other. Later testimony led investigators to believe the maneuver was the beginning of a dual 180 degree turn.
In a few minutes, the Camperdown and the Victoria collided.
The Victoria absorbed the worst of it. The Camperdown had rammed Victoria, penetrating 9 feet into the starboard side. The captain of the Camperdown put all engines in reverse. Backing away proved the final fatal error. The huge gash in the Victoria became a rushing waterway.
Ten minutes later, the ship had carried most of her crew beneath the Mediterranean near Libya. The very strict Vice Admiral was among them.
The sudden death of so many military personnel in peacetime captured the attention of the British public. An outcry for answers surrounded the investigation.
The first question was simple. What in hell was Vice Admiral Tryon thinking? Some mental defect or temporary insanity was thought to be a possibility. Sudden physical incapacity was also suspected.
It was possible he had envisioned a 90 degree turn by one of the ships and had somehow been unable to give the command to cut short the turn. So the ships continued until they collided.
Conventional wisdom finally focused on a mathematical miscalculation. The commander of the fleet had substituted diameter for radius in determining how close the ships should be before turning.
People died because of a mistake in math.
The bigger question, and the cause of the court martial, was what provoked public fury. Why was there no questioning of an obvious blunder?
In the end, officers had simply assumed their commander would issue some further order, that he had something in mind that they could not imagine. Confronting the disciplinarian involved too great a career risk.
I listened to an analysis last evening as some experienced pundit suggested that, whatever the count of moderate Republicans pledging to vote to end the government shutdown, the number who actually would keep that promise could easily be calculated.
Zero. Anyone who voted to end the confrontation would be a conservative pariah forever. No Republican politician would take the risk. "I don't see many profiles in courage in the House," he added.
That got me to thinking about the well preserved, nearly forgotten book I discovered in my far away youth.
The tracks of the great ships 120 years ago, five in one line, six in the other, provide an active illustration of Washington today.
Vice Admiral Ted Cruz has taken charge of the Republican fleet. Pretty much every dispassionate observer sees the miscalculation. A diameter is not a radius.
Reality based members hope against hope their commander has some last second maneuver in mind to extract them from disaster. Courage carries its own perils. Acting against orders will mean the end of life in Congress.
With perfect vision, they see the collision about to happen.
They are distraught, but they dare not disobey.
My daughter could easily pass for white, if she wanted to. She doesn't want to. She once provoked anger from a bystander for not acknowledging her obvious Hispanic ethnicity. I was not there at the time. I suspect the error was understandable, not only because of appearance, but because she can speak passable Spanish.
When her mother and I were married, we found a note from the Ku Klux Klan on the windshield of our car, tucked neatly beneath the wiper. The Klan was about to stage a rally nearby. They wondered if we would come as a guest. It did seem strange. But I glanced up and saw a similar note on the windshield of each car on the street.
It has been a long time since I last thought about that. Perhaps it is a sign of impending age that such memories now must be provoked.
I suspect my daughter might be less welcomed as Hispanic than as African-American in some parts of the country, and in some circles in any part of the country. Such is the slowly shifting tide of bigotry. Anecdotal evidence of the change comes from from casual conversation and random experience. More objective data can be found in voter suppression laws.
Some Republican legislators in Texas seem to gather themselves into one such unfriendly circle. A recent Supreme Court decision gave greater freedom to some designated areas to pass voting regulations without getting legal approval from federal authorities. Texas lawmakers immediately passed a series of restrictive laws.
Many Hispanic voters commute by bus to low paying jobs, where long hours and often harsh conditions are the rule. So legislators passed photo ID requirements easily met by those licensed to drive automobiles.
One legal necessity of such laws is that non-drivers must be able to obtain photo IDs for voting purposes without cost. So the Texas legislature closed state offices near Hispanic residential areas. Distances were documented for court cases on the issue. Many Latino voters would have to ride buses for 170 miles to obtain the substitute IDs. Legislators restricted the hours of operation of those offices remaining. Then they imposed documentation requirements that are beyond the threshold of absurdity.
They made it really hard for non-drivers to vote, especially if those non-drivers happened to live in mostly Hispanic areas.
Then lawmakers went to work on the remaining Spanish speaking voters. They grouped legislative districts to reduce the impact of Hispanic residents.
A certain amount of gerrymandering is inevitable and, within limits, allowed. Every ten years the federal census provides an opportunity to set district boundaries. Still, some legal standards for compactness, size, and proportionality always apply. Lawsuits are successful if some lines are crossed. Targeting by ethnicity is pretty much forbidden.
But Texas went way beyond those limits. Emails, written messages, and recordings by legislators showed that Hispanic voters were targeted for redistricting to dilute their votes partly because they tend to be Democrats, but mostly because they are Hispanic.
Initially, Texas lawmakers denied that Hispanic voters were targeted for being Hispanic. When federal authorities routinely requested email messages, other correspondence, records, and depositions, Texas went to court. Such evidence, they said, was nobody's business. When evidence was eventually was produced, it showed a distinct, often enthusiastic, motivation against Hispanics.
Under new Supreme Court rulings, Texas is arguing that racial targeting is okay, as long as it is reasonable to suspect that the inner motivation of the targeting is actually partisan. It is fine for a lawmaker to make voting hard for Hispanic voters because they are Hispanic voters. At least it is if, deep in that lawmaker's soul, the actual motivation might be that so many Hispanic voters will be Democrats.
The hostility toward Latino voters, the disdain expressed in now revealed communications, the targeting to make voting harder, and the legal argument that it is okay to discriminate do all combine to form a discernible pattern.
That is what makes yesterday's surprise news even more head snapping.
The National Republican Committee listed 7 states where they really expect to attract Hispanic voters. Texas was one of those states.
The engagement team will build a grassroots infrastructure and engage with voters at community events, as well as strengthen our ties with Hispanic Republicans. As part of the RNC’s effort to build a permanent ground operation, the RNC will work in partnership with state parties to ensure a year-round presence in Latino neighborhoods.
- Reince Priebus, Republican National Chairman, October 7, 2013
We shouldn't take analogies too far. Similarities are not equivalencies.
When Representative Steve King (R-IA) presents eugenic arguments about immigrants, it does not make him a Nazi conspiring to eliminate undesirables from the genetic pool.
And when Republicans, who show every evidence of loathing toward Latino voters, want to embrace those who survive the purges, it does not make them the KKK leaving invitations on the windshields of minorities.
They are not equivalent.
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.
The Republicans believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail. The strong, the strong they tell us will inherit the land.
During his time in public life, Mario Cuomo could turn a phrase. Eloquence is not always the seeking of applause. His goal was usually to put into the vision of his audience the reality of those who are forgotten.
His most famous phrase came in an interview with The New Republic in 1985. "You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose."
It looks a lot worse than prose when you see legislative maneuvering on CSPAN. Statesmanlike disagreement becomes exposed as bickering, as the minutiae of legalistic considerations are treated as more vital than the people affected by laws.
The interminable sausage making was part of what made Obamacare unpopular. Dumb compromises to placate those who would support progress, except for something or other, made it look like little more than log-rolling. It provided a jumping off point for absurd distortion. Some folks still believe in death panels, the bureaucratic chainsaw massacre story of conservative fame.
The reaction of some I talk with in social circles or at Sunday worship was understandable to me. People we knew were hurting, and legislators wanted to talk about technical rates on medical devices?
The sausage making this season is even worse, heading toward Soylent Green territory. It's hard to watch. They're putting what in the grinder?
This is not prose. In some ways it goes beyond sausage. Whatever is being produced doesn't rise to that level. Nothing is being produced. The only objective of Republican efforts seems to be obstruction. The motivation is an open disdain for those struggling to work their way out of poverty.
People who gather at bus stops early in the dawn, waiting for transportation to hard jobs are attacked as lazy by expensively dressed pundits and well-compensated politicians. "He who does not work, neither shall he eat," they sneer. Conservatives work hardest at keeping those who ride those buses from voting.
Republicans, having lost the last election, retain only the House of Representatives, in spite of losing the popular vote there as well. The conservative survivors demand that those who were chosen by the voters enact the economic agenda of Mitt Romney.
If background analysts are to be believed, strategies devised by conservative leaders in the House are being vetoed by Senator Ted Cruz of Green Eggs fame. Here's how he does it:
Republicans, elected by a minority of voters, have enough votes to enact a budget. But they must either have near unanimity, or they must attract support from Democrats.
Republicans don't want to rely on Democrats.
That's partly a point of pride. Primary voters in a shrinking Republican Party don't want to vote for Republicans who are willing to work with Democrats. Period.
And it's partly a point of ideology. Relying on Democrats will involve accepting those in economic straits as worthy of consideration. Democrats are unlikely to vote for anything that further bloats those living in privilege while further downgrading the lives of the middle class, along with those who get up before dawn to work at low paying jobs.
This combination of partisan pride, electoral fear, and ideological intransigence gives a small minority of those elected by a minority veto power over government. Ted Cruz may be unpopular with pretty much all of the Senate, and most of the House, but a phone call from Senator Cruz inspires loyalty from this small group.
Small cabals have been triumphant before, but not for long. The democratic tradition in America has remained strong. We have faith and an overview of history to reassure us.
History comes in seasons, of a sort. This season is painful to watch.
We don't see prose, or even sausage making in the House of Representatives. We see palace intrigue by a political party whose primary policy is excommunication.
In early 1986, Vice President George W. Bush, trying to curry favor with conservative groups, briefly attacked then Governor Mario Cuomo. Cuomo replied:
There are few things more amusing in the world of politics than watching moderate Republicans charging to the right in pursuit of greater glory.
- Mario Cuomo, to Mary McGrory, January 30, 1986
In the generation's time since then, it has become much harder to be amused.
Joe Scarborough Possessed by Jerry Turner's Demons (7:37) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
It was a long, long, astonishingly long speech. Besides its length, it was criticized as self-promoting, even preening. But, looking at a transcript, you can find substance.
He offered commentary on the national work ethic and bureaucracy, a "crazy, unintelligible and incomprehensible" system of work rules and inefficiency. Even some corporations were in for criticism, bonuses flowing with the certainty the state would make up losses.
He was not entirely unsparing of his own party. "We know the party has problems."
Critics say the speech typifies his entire career, going back to the very beginning. He is sometimes characterized as a thug. I certainly think of him that way. Even his friends have always feared him. But he does seem to be loved by his base.
It is the on and on and on speech for which he seems destined to be remembered in history. It will not overshadow the destruction and danger he has carried with him, but it does mark a milestone.
Pointless, rambling, self-promoting, aimless, and long, long, long.
It was not as long as Strom Thurmond's famous filibusters against equal rights for black people. But Thurmond had a purpose. His objective was to keep black people down because, well, just because. This speech, in contrast, was a speeding car with no steering wheel.
This new effort was directed toward ... nothing, really. Just a devotion to the speaker of words and more words, along with his continuous effort to remain the center of the world.
As he spoke for hour after hour, he could not know that this day's time in the spotlight would be matched in pointlessness, and overwhelmed in length, by a fifteen year old kid in Texas who would one day grow up to become a United States Senator.
It was February 5, 1986. Fidel Castro finally ended his longest speech ever. It went for over 7 hours.
Nobody knew that speech would serve as a template for a repeat performance in the United States Senate more than 26 years later.
It doesn't seem like that far back but, as these things are measured, I guess it really was a generation ago.
It was 1976. Gerald Ford had replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon as President of the United States. He was facing a serious challenge from upstart conservative Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California. Several Democrats were vying for the party nomination. Hubert Humphrey was looking strong. Morris Udall was an underdog. And a former Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter was just beginning to look credible as he faced George Wallace in a few southern states.
But the big name, the one name that dominated the news was Senator Ted Kennedy. Chappaquiddick and the death of a young admirer was still in everyone's mind. The degree of Kennedy's responsibility for her death was a topic of discussion and debate.
More than anything on the news, the possibility of another Kennedy run dominated. Word came out that the Senator would be making an announcement soon.
The announcement came from his office. Senator Kennedy would not be running for President that year. Still, a few voices were heard wondering just how definitive that announcement really was. That afternoon, Senator Kennedy held a press conference. No, he said. No, no, no. He was not going to run for President in 1976. No.
By the end of the workday, as commuters clogged the expressway in Baltimore where I lived, as businesses closed for the day, the news programs on the radio reviewed the day's events. I listened as I drove. Okay, okay, I got it. Senator Edward M. Kennedy would remain Senator Kennedy. There would not be another President Kennedy. Not for a while, at least.
At home that evening, I turned on the television set. Jerry Turner was a reliable presence. You could always count on him to appear. I wondered if he ever took a vacation. He was reliable. His words were not. He mixed his opinions into his news and he was not careful about his facts.
That evening, he announced the big news from that morning. Edward Kennedy was about to run for President. Details after the commercial break.
Even by Turner standards, that was a surprise. It was before Fox News made the practice of spin a normal expectation. In those days, journalists did not aspire to balance as much as they did to accuracy. Let the chips fall.
Accuracy was the fashion, and Jerry Turner was no slave to fashion.
I may be aging, but I still have my mind. The sense of déjà vu while watching MSNBC made me wonder about my mind, but only for a second.
A week or so before, a publication for investors called "Money Morning" carried a bit of a misleading story that started with Warren Buffett. The story was that Buffett, back in 2010, had joined in the health care debate. He had voiced skepticism about Obamacare as it was being considered by Congress. If he was President Obama, he would scrap the program and start over.
The quote from 2010 was semi-true. Obamacare did not exist yet, and Buffett was being interviewed about two versions being debated at the time. He preferred a Senate version over a House version, but was concerned about the increasing costs of health care in recent decades. He was afraid that neither plan would seriously push back against costs. He wished a better plan that would directly attack costs could be devised. If he was President he would have started differently, adding more cost push backs to the mix.
Still he supported Obamacare over the system in place at the time. It was a major improvement and he was for it. He just wished it had more cost cutting provisions.
The Money Morning piece did not dwell on the misleading Buffett quote. It just used it as a jumping off point to explain how horrible Obamacare will be and how Americans "loathe every facet" of it. But the new program does offer major investment opportunities, so listen up, readers. Money Morning is, after all, an investment newsletter.
A few days later, the conservative Weekly Standard wrote about how Warren Buffett now stands opposed to Obamacare. You know things are bad for President Obama when even Warren Buffett has soured on Obamacare and says that "we need something else."
The Weekly Standard somehow forgot to mention that the quote was not current, in fact was from 2010.
Like some demented version of a children's game of telephone, the conservative publication selectively quoted an investment newsletter which in turn selectively quoted this public figure.
And, of course, a thousand conservative bloggers chipped in their version of the Weekly Standard version of the Money Morning version of Warren Buffett. So now the internet conservative news was that Warren Buffett had seen the light. The one time supporter of health care reform was now vigorously opposed to it.
Republicans appeared on talk shows to score points, now that Warren Buffett had joined them in opposing Obamacare.
None of it was true, of course.
A few writers began to push back, after doing their homework and researching the quote. Yes, it really was from three years back when Obamacare did not yet exist, when the legislation was still being worked out. And yes, the context of the quote made the meaning pretty much opposite of what conservatives were trumpeting about it.
Warren Buffett quickly issued his own denial. As soon as the stories began, he spoke with the Omaha World-Herald.
Stories saying that Warren Buffett wants to “scrap Obamacare” are false, the Omaha investor said Tuesday.
“This is outrageous,” Buffett said in a World-Herald interview Tuesday. “It's 100 percent wrong ... totally false.”
- Omaha World-Herald, September 17, 2013
Apparently, Mr. Buffett was not happy at being misquoted.
I've never suggested nor thought Obamacare should be scrapped. I support it. It relates to providing medical care for all Americans. That's something I've thought should be done for a long, long time.
- Warren Buffett, interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald, September 17, 2013
Now that should settle it, right? Oh, you'll still have countless minor conservative office holders or talk personalities who never get the word, or who lack enough confidence in themselves or their issues to stick with the truth.
But mainstream conservatives have pretty much turned to more productive arguments.
Well, some may have. Maybe.
The controversy has died down, the Weekly Standard has updated it's story with a tiny little note that Buffett was speaking three years ago. Still no context, and still no other corrections, but you can't expect everything.
Five days after the dust has settled, five days after Warren Buffett's scathing correction of the record, five days after Buffett reaffirms his support of healthcare in general and Obamacare specifically, conservative Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, speaks to a regular member of the show, and informs a national audience:
By the way, Warren Buffett came out last week and said, Willie, we've got to start all over. Obamacare is not going to work. We need to start all over. Warren Buffett, big Democrat.
- Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe, September 22, 2013
Jerry Turner left this mortal realm a quarter century ago. I still sometimes hear his voice in my imagination growling that his name is Legion "for we are many." It was startling to see his inner demons possess another television personality.
But we must acknowledge our blessings. For example, I'm thankful at how fast my face is already healing.
I've got to learn to stop listening to Scarborough in the morning during the few minutes it takes me to shave.