Well, the situation down in the US isn’t getting any better; the government shutdown is now on its the final day to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default, which will shitcan the US’ credit rating and fuck up the global economy. It’s a complicated situation, according to some pundits, but I don’t really think that’s true. Here’s my read from the outside, as a Canadian:
There’s a radical faction within the Republican Party who call themselves the Tea Party. They hate President Obama, who is a Democrat. The Tea Party faction has enough leverage in Republican politics to say “no” (but not “yes”) to whatever they don’t like. Instead of stomping hard on these radicals, the Republican leadership is pandering to them. The Tea Party has decided to manufacture a crisis because they don’t like Obama’s plan for universal healthcare, despite widespread public support. The crisis is intended to make Obama back off from universal health care, and it isn’t working because Obama won’t fold.
We’re starting to see the effects of the government shutdown up here — I’ve got stuff for our business stuck in US Customs, as an example — and prices on imported items are inching up, although curiously gas prices have stayed more or less the same. Media coverage up here has been steady, but relatively low-key, especially now that it’s two weeks along and the shutdown has become the “new normal.” At the beginning there were a number of “it can’t happen here” articles, explaining the difference between a federal republic and a constitutional monarchy (which boils down to the opposition in Canada not having much power beyond stamping their little feet as long there’s a majority government in power) so I get the sense that there’s a queasy/smug Canadian discomfort over the problems south of the border; sort of an “Oh, there they go again” eye-roll reaction.
I’ve been following the situation down there as closely as possible (although that’s not been too close in the past few days, since most of the negotiations are now happening behind closed doors) and I’ve come to one inescapable conclusion: President Barrack Obama cannot fold to the pressure of a single faction within the Republican Party. If he buckles, he’s never going to be able to accomplish anything ever again… and neither will any other President, Republican or Democrat. Ever again.
Fuck the economic impact, okay? This comes down to democracy, and if a small group of fanatics can extort the majority into doing whatever they want, then it’s not a democracy anymore.
Now, that might sound strange coming from an activist. I spent the better part of a decade marching and demonstrating against (or for) various things that the majority of Canadians were in favor of (or opposed to) or, more often, simply didn’t care about: same-gender marriage is a good example. Those who supported equal marriage were definitely a minority a decade ago, so how was our win any different from what the Tea Party minority is doing in the States to oppose universal health care?
Simple: Public demonstrations don’t hurt anyone, shutting down an entire government does. Equal marriage activists used the Canadian legal system to appeal the laws (all the way to the Supreme Court) and demonstrated as a method of educating the public on the issue and pressuring politicians to take a stand in favour of the issue; demonstrations are primarily educational. The Tea Party has adopted a tactic which does hurt people — tens of thousands are out of work and the global economy is at risk. As activists, we appealed to the morality of the decision makers; the Tea Party are threatening them. That’s the difference: The passage of the Equal Marriage Act in Canada represented a triumph of the democratic process; the US Government sequestration represents a failure of it.
You want to change something? There are methods to do that in a democracy. If your point is valid, people get on your side and things change the way you want. If your point lacks sufficient weight, you stay a voice in the wilderness and things don’t change the way you want. At a certain point, you have to accept that and be prepared to compromise.
I don’t, for example, support the Canadian practice of having a separate Catholic-based school system along side the secular public one, both being paid for by my taxes; I think it’s wasteful, outdated, and a violation of the principle of separation of Church and State… and it’s not going to change anytime soon. The Catholic school system was constitutionally protected as a concession to Quebec, and there’s insufficient political will to change that right now. I don’t like that fact, but I accept it because I am an educated, intelligent adult with a basic grasp of civics and my civil responsibilities.
The Tea Party faction manufactured this crisis to try and force the President to abandon the Affordable Care Act, despite the failure of literally dozens of previous attempts to so. All of those attempts were legal under the American system, and all of them failed because the Tea Partiers failed to convince enough people to come over to their side of the issue. And rather than accept that, rather than try and compromise or even just become resigned to the fact that it was going to happen, they declared they were taking their ball and going home.
This shutdown isn’t Obama’s fault. He’s faced with people who’d rather flip over the board than admit defeat. If he wants the game (also known as the American Republic) to continue, he can’t allow that to happen. He’s in a shitty position, but the only way out is through. The people at fault are the Tea Partiers who are throwing — and throwing on a global scale — a temper tantrum. And that’s what it is, a childish temper tantrum. They didn’t get their way, so they’re going to throw up their arms and carry on until someone gives it to them, like a little kid having a screaming fit in front of the candy bars. This situation is being caused entirely by them, and I can just bloody tell that nobody’s going to hold them to account for it. And the person who should be doing that, and who is therefore most deeply responsible in this situation (just as the parent of a child having a temper tantrum is responsible) is House Speaker John Boehner, who should have reined them in. Boehner, for whatever reason, is willing to allow this massive damage to the American political system rather than take a stand that might potentially harm his own standing within the Republican Party.
(Actually, that’s not an entirely fair comparison. A five-year old throwing a tantrum in a supermarket is being a five-year-old, albeit a difficult one. A US Congressman ought to know better.)
John Boehner’s lack of action is cowardice. I’m sorry, but it is. It’s a failure of character on his part. There is a point where you have to put your personal ambition aside for the good of the many… and that point has long since been reached. Instead, Boehner has allowed the situation to come to this… and committed almost certain political suicide. Ironically, had he taken a stand, had he opposed and reined in the Tea Party faction, he would have boosted his profile, both inside the Republican party and with the American public. Had he taken a strong leadership role, he almost certainly would have been President someday. Not now.
The USA needs leaders, statesmen, people who will work for the common good, even over partisan considerations. Barrack Obama, whether you like him or not, is one of those people; his willingness to compromise, even with people who refuse to, have hobbled his Presidency from Day One. He’s tried to compromise to the degree that it’s actually harmed what he’s trying to do — and because of that his legacy would have best been described with the phrase “half a loaf is better than none.” But now, when the chips are down, he’s proven that he known when not to compromise… and set the seal on his legacy.
But if there’s one thing this crisis has proven, it’s that John Boeher is no statesman. He doesn’t have the character, the courage, to work for the common good. Instead, he’s proven himself merely another goddamn politician. The Tea Party are strident radicals, and not one of them will ever make it to the White House, not after this. Boehner, as a more moderate Republican leader, was supposed to be one of the checks and balances that kept the system going. He failed at that. He’ll pay for that failure with his political career… as well he should.
I don’t know how the shutdown is going to work out. I don’t even know if it’s going to work out. But I know that if there’s any give, it’s going to have to be on the Republican side, because if Obama folds the long-term damage to the democratic political system is going to be completely irreparable. And if we Canadians sometimes find it uncomfortable living next to the most powerful nation in the world, how much worse would it be if that nation isn’t a democracy?