Saturday, October 5, 2013

Wrong Side of History

Wrong Side of History

Timothy Egan

Sarah Palin finally got her death panels — a direct blow from the Republican House. In shutting down the government, leaving 800,000 people without a paycheck and draining the economy of $300 million a day, the Party of Madness also took away last-chance cancer trials for children at the National Institutes of Health.
And now that the pain that was dismissed as a trifle on Monday, a “slimdown” according to the chuckleheads at Fox News, is revealed as tragic by mid-week, the very radicals who caused the havoc are trying to say it’s not their fault.
It’s too late. They flunked hostage-taking. About 30 or so Republicans in the House, bunkered in gerrymandered districts while breathing the oxygen of delusion, are now part of a cast of miscreants who have stood firmly on the wrong side of history. The headline, today and 50 years from now, will be the same: Republicans closed the government to keep millions of their fellow Americans from getting affordable health care.
They are not righteous rebels or principled provocateurs. They are not constitutionalists, using the ruling framework built by the founders. Just the opposite: they are a militant fringe of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government trying to nullify an established law by extortion. This is not the design of the Constitution.

Nor are they Martin Luther King Jr., or Rosa Parks or Winston Churchill — preposterous comparisons made on the floor of Congress by those whose only real fight is with progress.
In truth, they are the Know-Nothings from the 1850s who fought Irish Catholics and other castoffs from distant lands, vowing to keep them from becoming citizens. Their incarnation today is the Tea Party Republicans who call Latinos drug mules and would rather strangle the federal government than take up immigration reform.
They are the opponents of Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965, labeling what are now the two most popular government programs as socialism that would destroy the country. They are the foes of science and modernism, denying evolution, climate change and, on election nights, math.
Over the years, whether Democrat, Republican, Whig or Dixiecrat, the members of this club have one thing in common: they are left at the train station of destiny, and never realize it until it’s too late.
So of course they have no exit strategy. “We have to get something out of this,” said Representative Martin Stutzman, Republican of Indiana. “And I don’t know what that even is.” Truer words have not been spoken by any member of the Crazy Caucus since they took the House in 2010.
You have to step back from the breathless tick-tock of the 24-hour news cycle to put this grim chapter in larger perspective. “Can you remember a time in your lifetime when a major political party was just sitting around, begging for America to fail?” So asked a perplexed Bill Clinton a few days ago.
The answer is no. What kind of failure are we talking about? Not just to equity markets, jobs, the mechanics of daily life in the world’s biggest economy. The shutdown stops research on Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, cancer treatments. Two-thirds of the employees at the Centers for Disease Control were sent home. Many food inspectors, people who train air traffic controllers, anti-terrorism experts — all furloughed. And shed a tear for Yosemite National Park on its 123rd birthday Monday. America’s Best Idea — as the parks are called — couldn’t compete with America’s Worst Idea, the Tea Party Republicans.
And let’s never forget that these sacrifices, real and lasting, are being made for one thing: to block health care reform. Obamacare, when its component parts are explained to people, is enormously popular. Take one of the most profound features of the law — the ban on denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. Nearly half of all Americans fit that category. The insurances exchanges, for all their computer glitches, are flooded with interest.
We know now why Senator Ted Cruz, the most hated man in Washington, said he fears that once Obamacare is up and running people will like it — and then it will be too late for the obstructionists.
Politically, the shutdown is terrible for a party trying to rebrand itself. When Bobby Jindal said Republicans have to “stop being the party of stupid,” he swallowed a teaspoon of common sense. That’s been washed away by a river of stupid.
This week’s Quinnipiac Poll found 72 percent of Americans opposed to shutting down the government to halt the Affordable Care Act. When asked to pick a party in a generic Congressional matchup, those surveyed chose Democrats over Republicans, 43 percent to 34 — the widest measure in recent polling.
Those numbers won’t penetrate the gerrymandered fortresses that produced the people who have made our democracy a laughing stock of the world.
“We’re right,” crowed Representative Steve King of Iowa.
“We can always win,” seconded Representative Raúl Labrador of Idaho.
Say it enough times, and it’ll be true, like Karl Rove’s gasping on election night that Obama had not yet won. But the die is cast. They wrecked the car, dug their own grave; no matter what you call it, history’s verdict came early.

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