Friday, October 4, 2013

Tea Party’s government shutdown has many parallels with Germany in late 1920s-early 1930s

By Marc Jampole

A group of rich industrialists are not happy with the direction in which the country is going, so they give money to support and develop a radical party to push their agenda for smaller government and lower taxes and regulation. But the fringe party they support gets into a position to subvert the democratic process and the economy. At the end, even the industrialists who funded them are worried about the actions taken by the suddenly powerful if still small party.

Sounds familiar?

What am I describing? Is it the United States in 2010-2013? Or could it be Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s?

The structural parallels between what has happened in the United States and what happened almost a century ago in Germany are uncanny. Now I’m not comparing the current state of our country to Nazi Germany, nor am I predicting that we are moving in Germany’s genocidal direction. Nor am I comparing the Tea Party Congressional representatives and Senators to Hitler, although there are many similarities between the philosophies behind the two movements:
  • Stress on traditional values.
  • Hate of the current government.
  • Nativism and distrust of foreigners.
  • An underlying racism, which the Tea Party denies, but which can be detected in code language, occasional slip-ups and irrational abhorrence of our mixed-race President.
  • Willingness to subvert democratic processes.
The big difference, of course, is that the Tea Party wants to shrink government to almost nothing, whereas Hitler wanted to increase government and have government aggressively direct the economy.

Make no mistake about it. The Tea Party would be a minor force in American politics if not for two things: 1) the money that big business threw into their campaigns in the wake of the Supreme Court’s weird but unfortunate Citizens United decision; and 2) the main news media—owned by large corporations—which lavished Tea Party candidates with coverage while ignoring the many progressive and liberal candidates across the country.

But the Tea Partiers could not by themselves have been able to close down much of the government and put us on the precipice of a debt crisis that could plunge the world into economic free-fall. It has taken the craven and self-serving actions of Speaker of the House John Boehner, who has refused to release Republicans to vote their consciences on the budget and debt issues.  Does that sound like a decrepit and ineffectual Paul von Hindenberg turning over the German government to a former house painter named Adolf?

When I learned that the Republicans want to cut some $40 billion from food stamps I was befuddled and sickened at how little empathy this relatively small group of mostly privileged people had for the challenges facing the poor and near poor. I had the same feeling when I learned that 26 Republican-led states decided not to extend Medicaid coverage to millions of people who are without health insurance. Don’t they understand how much sicker people get when they don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford it or take half their dosage of medicine to make it last longer?

And I have the same feeling now. Why don’t these people feel the pain of the many federal workers who have already been ordered to stay home or the businesses that serve them? Why don’t they feel the fear of the many federal workers whose jobs have been declared essential, which means they’ll have to keep working even when the government won’t be able to pay them, starting in about two weeks? What about the people waiting for Social Security disability forms to be processed? Or people who work for government vendors and will be laid off? Don’t the Republicans care one little bit about the collective pain and economic loss already inflicted on American individuals and families?

The sheer lack of empathy for their fellow women and men, their willingness to plunge so many into suffering—their hard hearts—frightens me as much as the Tea Partiers attack on democracy and our democratic system.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Graphic by Kevin Kreneck

House Republicans want to destroy the town to save it

By Marc Jampole

The logic of House Republicans should ring familiar to those old-timers who lived through the Viet Nam War. What they want to do is “Destroy the town to save it.”

The original quote was attributed to an unnamed U.S. officer by reporter Peter Arnett about the U.S. bombing of the city of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

The Republicans are using this logic in refusing to fund the federal government unless Congress votes to postpone the implementation of the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.  The Republicans believe the new law is a disaster for the country, so they are willing to shut down the government in their continued efforts to dismantle it.

But a government shutdown will be more of a disaster than letting go into effect a law passed by Congress, signed by the President and endorsed by the American people in the last presidential election.  Most of the government will grind to a halt. About 800,000 federal workers will lose their jobs for the duration. About 1.4 million active-duty military personnel must remain on duty unpaid. We’ll see delays in processing passport and visa applications, issuing gun permits, continuing U.S. bankruptcy court. All national parks and federal wildlife refuges would be closed for the duration of the shutdown. Think of the loss of status we will suffer in world markets and in other countries.

That sure sounds like destroying the town to save it to me.

Except for one thing: Just as U.S. carpet bombing was unable to stop the rise of the Viet Cong nationalists, defunding our federal government won’t affect the timetable for starting exchanges or other major elements of the new healthcare law. The Internal Revenue Service will still collect the new taxes mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

The “destroy the town to save it” logic is merely stupid. But the other piece of Republican House strategy reeks of venality and cynicism.  I’m referring to the idea—supported by recent polls—that the American people will blame both Democrats and Republicans equally for a government shutdown.  In other words, instead of treating the funding of the government and the lifting of the debt ceiling as a matter of public interest, the Republicans (and perhaps Democrats, too) see it as a political football to be tossed around. 

This strategy is likely to backfire. No matter what the polls show, history suggests that once the government is shut down, the American people will blame Republicans.  It’s similar to war situations. After we declare or invade a country, the American public always rallies around the President, no matter how many people opposed the war ahead of time. 

I think government shutdowns are similar. Moreover, based on the views expressed on the opinion pages so far, it’s likely that virtually the entire mainstream media and significant parts of the right-wing media will blame Republicans.  Of course, Americans might blame President Obama if the current House bill passes and the President vetoes it, but rest assured, Senate Democrats won’t let that happen.  

If we want to blame one person for this mess, it’s John Boehner, who is all too willing to resort to the most irresponsible of actions to placate radical Tea-partiers and keep his job as Speaker of the House. All Boehner has to do to serve his country is release Congressional Republicans to vote their conscious (or the will of their constituents) and thereby let enough Republicans in blue states vote with Democrats to keep the government running.

Mr. Boehner, sir, it’s time to stand up and show a profile in courage.