A few weeks ago in Colorado -- the home of Columbine and Aurora -- two legislators lost their jobs in a recall election because they supported a modest gun control bill. Both said that if they had it to do over again, they'd vote the same way.
The recall election gave the National Rifle Association the opportunity to send a message to lawmakers everywhere: Do anything -- anything at all -- to meddle with our gun culture and you'll be punished.
But the deeper message of the recall was more interesting: There are still politicians in this country who are willing to stand on principle, even if it means losing their jobs. If only we had some of them in Washington.
In Congress today, it's all about winning, not governing. A small band of Republicans aligned with the Tea Party -- a movement that represents less than 20 percent of the American people -- have hijacked the United States government in an attempt to extort Congress into rolling back Obamacare, a law passed by Congress, signed by the President three years ago and upheld last year by the Supreme Court.
The disproportionate power of this cabal reportedly derives from the intimidation of its more reasonable colleagues in the House who fear that if they don't go along, the Tea Party will make sure they are opposed in next fall's primary elections. The right wing's agenda in the House is simple: Block the president's initiatives. It's immaterial whether those initiatives benefit the American people or solve a national problem.
It's difficult to know whether the current government shutdown is about Obamacare or about Obama. Republicans have never gotten over the fact that he was elected president. We remember Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell's surprising candor in 2010 when the unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, the foreclosure crisis was beginning to evict families from their homes and the country was trying to claw its way back from the Great Recession. McConnell admitted, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."
Now, with the economy still in recovery and unemployment still above 7 percent, it appears the highest priority of House Republicans is to make sure that President Obama leaves no legacy of significance. Thwarting him means certain reelection in heavily conservative districts. That's why the House has wasted time with more than 40 show votes to roll back Obamacare, knowing full well that none of them would pass the Senate or escape the president's veto.
In the current debacle, the House justifies its boneheaded effort to undermine Obamacare by citing polls that show the public is frightened by the restructuring of the nation's health care system. But conservatives manufactured much of that fear, starting with claim that President Obama was trying to create "death panels." And a new poll released the first day of the shutdown this week showed that voters overwhelmingly oppose it.
The contemporary Republican Party clearly is not a party of ideas and ideals. It is a party of poor losers. There undoubtedly are Republicans who care about us, who don't want to throw us back into recession with the damaging ripple effect of the government shutdown, and who believe the federal government has value. But in the House of Representatives, they have allowed themselves to become House elves, the far right's Dobby.
At the center of this mess are Tea Party loyalists who carry the Constitution around in their pockets and claim to be its defenders. Yet they will not accept the will of the American people who elected the president twice in accordance with the Constitution. They are fixated on subverting the Affordable Care Act, a law of the land duly created by the legislative process the Constitution requires.
I faintly recall a time when the party that lost a presidential election understood its duty to work with the person the people elected to that office, within reason, for the good of the country. That is not the politics we see today. Congress has become a spectacle of unprincipled war fighting, with little apparent concern for the collateral damage it's causing outside the Beltway. Its members have turned the world's great example of democracy into an international embarrassment. Government created in a democracy, it seems today, is just a big sandbox where bullies are allowed to play.
It's worth repeating: Obamacare is the law, passed by Congress just as the Founder's envisioned and the Constitution prescribes. Republicans need to get over it and give it a chance. If it's the calamity they say it is, they will have no problem undoing it in honest legislation. Barack Obama is the president of the United States, elected just as the Founders envisioned and Constitution prescribes. Republicans aren't required to surrender their principles, should they find some, but they are required to accept the will of the people and to search for the common ground where the two parties and two branches can get about the business of solving the nation's problems.
In man-on-the-street interviews this week, citizens blamed both parties for what's going on. But Senate Democrats are correct to refuse to negotiate with extortionists. In putting the next election above all else, the Republican Party deserves to lose it -- not because of its philosophy of government or its ideas, should it acquire some, but because it has made the House dysfunctional, which has made Congress dysfunctional, which now has made the rest of the federal government non-functional.
Unfortunately, the Founders left one important provision out of the Constitution. If only we voters had the right to recall the entire House or the Senate or both. Or at least to hold members of Congress, regardless of where they come from, in contempt of the American people.
Author's Note: This post is a personal rant and does not necessarily represent the views of the organizations with which I'm associated.