Monday afternoon, while driving along U.S. Highway 50 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, my family and I came upon two blazes consuming a steep hillside. The second fire was so hot, and so close to the road, we could feel the ovens of Satan through the car doors, from the far side of a divided highway.
The next day, I happened to bump into a couple of forest service firefighters at a community event, and they confirmed that these were not planned burns. They don’t know how the conflagrations started, but they got the flames under control before the fire could endanger the town of Placerville.
Evidently, a firebug is afoot.
The same ethos – a spirit of wanton, senseless, indiscriminate destruction – animates our Tea Party leaders. That rhetoric about financial “terrorism” and “hostage-taking”? It’s spot-on, and I hope Joe Biden won’t have to apologize abjectly for it. After all, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had no trouble calling his seizure of local democracy “financial martial law.”
These guys know what they’re doing. The Tea Partiers and their enablers, both Repub and Dem, are simply following Grover Norquist’s blueprint for “shrinking government” until it’s small enough to “drown it in a bathtub.” They’re now backed by a burgeoning number of voter-suppression bills and anti-union legislation at the state level, intended to neuter the remaining sectors of the electorate still capable of kicking up a stink about Citizens United and the wholesale selling-out of democracy to the best-paid lobbyists and think tanks.
For now a global financial meltdown has been averted, but for how long? And at what cost? Even as Congress voted to back the economy away from the edge of a cliff, it was pushing democracy straight into the canyon. Into the flames.
The Tea Partiers just learned what many parents eventually learn through painful trial-and-error. If you give in to a child when she tantrums, screams, and threatens to throw all of her toys at you, you’ve got a problem. The child learns: Heh. The more bratty I act, the more my parents will cave! Note, in this scenario, the Tea Partiers are not the adults.
Most of us don’t become sociopaths. Most parents learn to set reasonable boundaries with reasonable consistency, most of the time. Most kids learn to play nicely with others.
A few kids don’t learn. They grow up to be firebugs. Or Tea Partiers. Or maybe both?
Barack Obama and the Democratic caucuses did exactly what a smart parent would avoid. They caved into bullying. They failed to set boundaries (the time for which would’ve been last fall, when the Bush tax cuts were on the table). They followed the recipe for creating a juvenile delinquent with “materials easily available at home.”
With this shit-sandwich – nay, “Satan sandwich” – of a debt ceiling agreement, we’ve averted a global meltdown in the finance markets. We’ve kept consumer interest rates at a reasonable level – for now, at least. We’ve also shot the recovery in the gut (hey, that terrorism metaphor is handy!) and ensured that job growth will be anemic or negative over the next few years. (The debt-ceiling’s terrible effects on the recovery – and on jobs, in particular – would belong in a separate post wherein I sing the praises of Keynesianism. Just go read Robert Reich, ‘kay? It’ll hurt less. And then watch this:)
But the economic impact of the deal, ugly though it be, is far from the worst of its repercussions. On a fundamental level, we have abandoned representative democracy. We’re left with a terrible spoof of Orwell in which all congresscritters may vote, but some congresscritters’ votes count more than others.
We’re also at the mercy of sociopathic brats. The next time the Repubs want to enforce their will, they need only promise economic Armageddon (or threaten Medicare’s very existence, or strangle the ongoing operations of the Federal Aviation Administration, which they’re doing right now as I write this). Yes, the Tea Partiers may – may – be voted out in the next electoral cycle, but since they don’t want to build or grow anything, they merely need to destroy. They can break an awful lot before they’re through. (Planned Parenthood, anyone? Which – perhaps not coincidentally – was firebombed this week at a Texas clinic that doesn’t even perform abortions?)
The Tea Partiers have learned that hostage-taking pays. Financial terrorism pays. They’ve made themselves over into unstoppable veto actors. The only question is: who – apart from the FAA – will be their next hostage?
Or as Robert Kuttner puts it (with metaphors only slightly less jumbled than my own):
Let us face the momentous truth: The United States has been rendered ungovernable except on the extortionate terms of the far-right.
Ironically, the necessary advice du jour comes from Ronald Reagan – an ex-prez much disposed to driving up the debt: “Never negotiate with terrorists.” Despite his adulation of Reagan, Obama did just that. Now we’ve got government-by-terrorist-fiat.
Burn, baby, burn.
The financial terrorists have won.