David Adler: Tea Party’s exercise in futility hurts the whole country

October 3, 2013 

No, “The Tea Party Tantrum” is not to be found in the fall lineup of new television shows. Too bad. It might be the one reality TV program worth watching.

“The Tantrum,” which is how followers of the unfolding drama on Capitol Hill describe it, depicts infighting among Republicans that has led to a government shutdown. The drama pits moderate members of the GOP in the House of Representatives who would vote with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open and operating, against some 80-85 ultra-conservative Republicans who would close down the government unless the Affordable Health Care Act is “defunded” or portions of it delayed.

The shutdown, a victory for the minority-within-a-minority, is a Machiavellian Moment that says “Give us our way or we’ll shut down the government.” Republican commentators and consultants, ranging from Karl Rove to Charles Krauthammer to Joe Scarborough, have denounced the Tea Party members as “insurrectionists” and declared the strategy as an erroneous exercise in “extortion” for which the GOP will pay a high price.

The tactic of extortion is an affront to our democratic process and demonstrates anew the desperate need in America for civic education — for citizens and governmental officials alike.

Americans learn early in their courses on government and politics that the American democracy is a system that promotes, among other fundamentals, a willingness on the part of the citizenry to abide by the results of elections. Elections do have consequences. They also impart lessons. If you lose an election, then you regroup, chart another strategic course and seek to persuade the electorate to embrace your views and values.

Let’s be clear on one thing. There’s nothing wrong with ongoing efforts by members of Congress to persuade their colleagues to change or repeal legislation. And if members want to introduce resolutions to defund Obamacare once, twice or even 42 times, that’s within their legislative province, although recognition of the fact that such efforts won’t be successful might prompt them to think about using the taxpayers’ time more efficiently.

But the employment of a tactic to shut down the government to obtain desired legislative results, particularly after dozen of efforts to defund the Affordable Health Care Act have failed, is beyond the pale. Americans are beginning to feel the impact of such tactics, which is why Republican commentators and analysts rightly fear a backlash against the GOP.

Consider the early impact of the shutdown in Idaho. As The Associated Press and the Statesman reported Wednesday, the search for a missing Boise physician at the Craters of the Moon National Monument was curtailed because the federal staff have been furloughed. In addition, 850 members of the National Guard have been furloughed and the maintenance of the Women’s, Infants and Children’s Program (WIC) may be threatened. This is just the beginning. More pain will be inflicted on Americans across the nation.

There is nothing to be gained through the shutdown of the federal government. Ultra-right champions of the shutdown in the House would be wise to avoid further criticism by joining moderate Republicans and Democrats in voting for the Senate’s continuing resolution. They should vote to reopen the government and conduct the business of the people. At that point, they are welcome to resume legitimate means of fighting Obamacare, however futile it may be.

David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus professor of public affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.

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