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.