Sunday, October 6, 2013

Paranoid about the paranoics

I've been remembering the frustrating conversation I had at a wine tasting a while back.  One thing this annoying person said is that he has a gun in his house to defend himself against the government when they try to take away all his rights.

Even though the Berkeley world in which I am now so immersed does not trust the government, I don't live in an environment where the government is seen as a threat to be armed against.  But I know there are many parts of the country where government is so mistrusted, so hated, that people would like it to go away, and they proudly maintain their guns for the opportunity to return to the natural order of things.

This is the source of the Tea Party movement.  Every morning I wake up and hear on NPR about the (potential for, and now real) government shutdown.  It frustrates me because of the premise embedded in the discussion: that government should not be shut down.  The disconnect between this premise and that of the Tea Party frightens me for the future.

The Tea Party wants radically smaller government.  And they've won.  The sequester: we are still functioning under radically reduced government funding.  The government shutdown: radically reduced government funding.  Support for food programs is vanishing.  NPR presents this as a terrible impact of the shutdown.  The Tea Partiers are cheering: they do not believe in food programs.  Go down the list of what the media presents as an impact of the government shutdown, and you will see a list of the items that the Tea Party does not want funded by the government anyway.  Eight hundred thousand federal workers: that's their win.  Food safety inspection.  National Parks.

Fox News calls it a government slimdown.  The term isn't just a way for them to play down the impact of the shutdown -- it's a way to celebrate that government is getting smaller.  Who doesn't want to slim down?

The Tea Party has been clever to focus on Obamacare as the item they want to negotiate on.  If for some reason the Democrats begin to discuss this law, they win.  If, as the Tea Party knows, this law is a done deal, then they can confidently hide behind the impenetrable shield of the issue and radically reduce the size of the government.  It's win-win for the Tea Partiers.

I am a diehard Democrat, and I have wanted to give the President the benefit of the doubt for his five years in office.  But someone on his team doesn't get it.  It's not just the economy, stupid: it's jobs, stupid.  It's not about programs, because that plays into Tea Party hands.  It's about individuals and their paychecks.  As the countdown to the shutdown began, the President should have had a daily news conference, each day talking about jobs.  In the second person: make it immediate.  On the first day, he could talk to the 800,000.  On the next day, he could pick one ripple effect and warn another segment of the population about their paychecks.  And so on.  If the shutdown occurred, he should keep going.  He could have a different cabinet member speaking each day to a different segment under his or her purview.

He could declare that he would fund the Bureau of Labor Statistics as a critical government function, sending the message that he cares more about tracking the jobs of the citizens than the Tea Partiers.

Instead, the Democrats are gleefully watching the Tea Party tear the Republicans in half, not realizing that they are all in the same sinking canoe.  However, the premise we hear in that is that the Republicans have a problem, but the Tea Partiers have no issue tearing their own party in half, tearing the government to pieces. Their goal is not to become the majority power in the Republican Party.  If Tea Partiers no longer exist because there is no functioning government of the United States, then they win.

This is my paranoia.  We are dealing here with something much bigger than a movement within government: we are dealing with a movement that is truly trying to destroy government.  When the debt ceiling is not raised, and the economy tanks, and more people lose their jobs, the people will say, "The government messed this up," not "The Tea Partiers, the Republicans messed this up, so I think I'll vote Democratic."  Having the people turn on the government means that we no longer have government by the people, for the people.  We just have a world where those with the biggest guns win.

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