One of the most bizarrely naïve expressions of hope in the aftermath of the 2013 US Government Shutdown Fiasco has been a variant of ‘perhaps the Republican Party’s extremist faction will learn from this crushing public relations defeat–as evinced by opinion polls and the public statements of their fellow party members–and not engage in similar brinkmanship again.’
This is naive because as the 81-18 and 288-144 vote margins in the Senate and House of Representatives reveal, eighteen Senators–supposedly the Wise Old Men of the American Polity[tm]–and, count ’em, one hundred and forty-four Congressfolks, not the supposed Gang of Forty, did not think, even on October 16th, two weeks deep into a cripplingly expensive shutdown of the federal government, that the Senate bill to resolve the standoff was worth signing.
To be sure, they might not have thought their votes were actually going to derail the passing of the bill, and were instead intended as signals to their constituencies that they intend to continue fighting the good fight, but that fact does not provide any reassurance. If their constituents need such mollifying even in the face of overwhelming evidence that their representatives in Washington had engaged in catastrophically irresponsible behavior damaging to the US economy and the practice of legislative politics, then there is good reason to believe they will need similar coddling the next time budgetary negotiations take place. Which is not a year or even six months away, but right around the corner in the new year.
What seems to have forgotten in the rush to castigate the Gang of Forty and John Boehner–who seems to be early frontrunner for the title of the Most Incompetent and Cowardly Speaker of the Twenty First Century–as reckless extremists is that these folks are merely doing the bidding of those ballot box battlers who believe a Muslim lives in the White House, who consider federal employees parasites, who regard every branch of the government as a force of active oppression, and some of whose members who, at their most ‘intellectual’ moments, proudly proclaim themselves to be infected by an incoherent political philosophy which I will term ‘American libertarianism’. (This ahistorical and intellectually vapid brand of political hogwash, which possesses no discernibly meaningful conception of power as far as I can see, is alarmingly popular in many reaches of American life.)
Such an electoral constituency will have learned no lessons from the disaster that has been temporarily halted last night. Instead, I presume, a fresh batch of half-baked conspiracy theories will be making the rounds, explaining the capitulation by the Republican Party as a strategic and tactical regrouping, an opportunity for the mustering of forces, just in time for the next assaults. Like hostage-takers everywhere, their elected representatives will have appreciated the extensive media coverage and the attention paid to their pathetic rodomontade.
They are, I can assure you, already looking forward to the next showdown, prepared to dig in even deeper, eagerly awaiting that drive off the cliff edge so that they can proceed–and take us all with them–to their version of the inhabited-by-seventy-two-houris-paradise that they think awaits them.