With 800,000 “non-essential” federal employees furloughed, vital social programs shuttered and a looming debt ceiling deadline on Oct. 17, many are looking to apportion blame for the shutdown. It is perfectly valid to question how any political system can approach such a cataclysm by design.
The far-right branch of the GOP – the so-called tea party – has been using the Affordable Care Act as a smokescreen to fabricate a crisis – and Democrats, including President Barack Obama, are complicit in the resulting attacks on the majority of Americans.
According to a CBS News poll taken during the first two days of the shutdown, 25 percent of Americans – including 48 percent of Republicans – approved of shutting down the government over differences regarding the Affordable Care Act.
This was the tea party’s constituency when they steadfastly opposed the law during the prelude to the current shutdown. Add in the marathon 21-hour speech against Obamacare by Sen. Ted Cruz, and one is given quite the window into the considerations of the tea party: ideological rigidity at all costs.
Their political futures are determined not by the national popular opinion, which largely supports the ACA, but by voters in their right-wing districts.
According to The Guardian’s Michael Cohen, Republican politicians gain incentive “by gerrymandered and polarized districts … to take even more radical positions to appeal to their conservative supporters.”
For their part, Democratic leaders seemingly welcomed the shutdown. The Wall Street Journal reported that “a senior administration official [said]: ‘We are winning ... It doesn't really matter to us’ how long the shutdown lasts ‘because what matters is the end result.’”
The same CBS News poll showed that at least 57 percent of Americans view the president, Democratic leaders in Congress and Republican leaders in Congress less favorably, with 61 percent viewing Republican leaders less favorably.
The poll results show that, rather than any side “winning” the shutdown, the reality is that the Obama administration is simply losing less.
But what is the result of this catastrophic budgetary brinkmanship? Like the 2011 debt ceiling “crisis,” the end result will be a dramatic shift of “rational” American political discourse to the right. This means that cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – the remnants of a more progressive time in American politics – will be discussed as a reasonable solution to the deficit.
This obsession over the ballooning debt – “deficit fetishism,” if you will – has destroyed possibilities for progressive reform. The steps are disarmingly simple.
First, the right wing of the Republican Party is intransient over a particular issue. Second, the Democrats, in the name of “bipartisanship” or “compromise,” give the Republicans everything they requested. Third, news coverage and political discourse discuss not whether to cut but how much to cut. Rinse and repeat until the federal government no longer provides social services.
The Democrats are either unwilling or incapable of mounting a defense of social programs, let alone passing new progressive reforms. Obama indicated his willingness to proceed in an interview with CNBC, in which he said, “It is important for us to deal with our long-term entitlement spending.”
He also said, “I think it is very important for us to continue to cut out programs that are unnecessary, not working – some of them need to be reformed.”
Regardless of what is deemed “unnecessary” or “not working” next, Americans can be assured that “reformed” means gutted and discarded.