Universal Translator

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Refusing (Barely) the Red Pill

Well . . . that was interesting.

I waited up until a little past 11:00 last night, to find out what was going to happen with the budget and whether we’d have a government shutdown.  I had geared up for a shutdown, although I recognized that the odds were at least even that nothing of the sort would ever occur.

But, in a weird way, I have to confess to a bit of a letdown that it didn’t happen.  Not because I wanted to see the government shut down – God forbid.  But because it makes understanding where we are now, politically, as a nation, just a little bit more difficult.

By the time the last few hours, yesterday, were ticking down, the only real dispute was about federal funding of women’s reproductive health services.  And, no, that is not a euphemism.  And let me repeat that – the federal government was in the process of being shut down, because of a dispute about the funding of women’s health services.

Let’s back up.

* * *

About two months ago I was talking with my mother about the possibility that the government might get shut down as a result of the mid-term elections:

“I don’t think Boehner really wants to shut down the government,” I told her, “he is too Old School for that.  He is a wheeler-dealer, a guy to get deals done . . . distasteful as those deals might be.  But the Teabillys who got elected this past year . . . the crazies . . . I don’t know that they will let him keep the government open.  They are already making noise about not letting the debt level climb higher than it is right now, even though – if it doesn’t – it means the United States will break its bond obligations and all of a sudden the U.S. T-Bill won’t be the ‘inviolate, rock-hard, safe’ security it has always been assumed to be.  And upon which we, y’know, base all of our economic capital.

“I don’t think these Teabillys really understand what it means to run a federal government.”

But the first deadline was passed, largely because the Democrats gave in and cut some government spending (even though cutting government spending is the last thing you want to do when you are in a recession).  That bought us a few weeks, and then there was another deadline, and the Democrats cut government spending some more (and made the macroeconomic picture for the United States just a little bit worse, but – hey! – the country got to keep on functioning).

And then this last budget deadline loomed . . . the really, really serious budget deadline.  It was time to put up or shut up.

Boehner asked for $33 Billion in cuts.  The Dems agreed to $30 Billion.

‘Nuh-uh,’ said Boehner, ‘now we need $37 Billion in cuts.’  The Dems countered with $34B.  And so it went, in a classic case of market bazaar (or, y’know, bizarre) bargaining.  The Republicans kept moving the goalposts, and the Democrats kept chasing after them in order to try and get a deal done.

Except, this wasn’t the only thing that was going on.  Largely unreported (at least by the media that I’ve heard/seen) was the fact that the Republicans also had included a number of “riders” on the budget proposal.  These included everything from repealing the Affordable Care Act – passed only last year, and intended to be the crowning jewel of Obama’s tenure – to gutting the recently enacted financial regulations (largely toothless, but the Big Wall Street Boys don’t want even the appearance of the government being able to oversee what they do), to eviscerating the EPA and its ability to control air pollution, to gutting funding for women’s health services.

At one point or another all of these ideas – the gutting of these protections and services for the benefit of, y’know, us – were being held hostage by the Republicans and their demands for more cuts.  And, over time, they all fell away.  Except for that part about women.  That stayed.

The significance of this is, I think, readily apparent, but I will nevertheless come back later and address it explicitly.

By last night, the Democrats had agreed to $38 Billion in cuts to the federal budget.  According to Keynesian economics, this is almost assuredly a bad idea, but it was what the Dems apparently felt the need to do in order to get the Republicans to agree to keep the government going.  You know, little things like making sure the people serving in our armed forces keep getting paid.  Remember them?  Our Heroes?

* * *

Swear to God . . . about a week ago I stumbled upon a right-winger’s column, on a right-wing site, and I had never heard of either the columnist or the site before.  But his point was very simple:  if the Dems are giving you the cuts you want, then take the goddamn cuts.  But don’t shut down the government, because that will hurt the Republican Brand.

Now . . . I can’t say that I am on the same page as this guy, but I get where he is coming from.  He was basically saying that it would be a bad idea to shut down the government, and it would be an especially bad idea because – if the government got shut down – the Republicans would be blamed.  Fair enough.

I thought his column was bland and unremarkable.  But then I read through the comments left by the right-wingers who frequented the site.  It opened my eyes to how great a gulf there is between how I view this country, and my place in it, and my responsibility to it, and how a certain percentage of my fellow citizens see these things.  The hate, and vitriol, and general mean-spiritedness emanating from these comments was almost palpable.  And they were running 4 or 5 to 1 against this guy’s very reasonable sounding (to me, at least) column.  These people were clamoring to shut down the government.

About a third of the way through these comments, I came across a woman who wrote something like:  “Listen.  I’m not a big fan of the government either.  But think about what you are saying.  I’m a Marine Corps wife, stationed in Quantico, and we’ve already been counseled that if the government shuts down we won’t be getting a paycheck.  We’ve been told to start budgeting immediately because nobody knows what is about to happen.”

Wow, I thought.  Surely this will cool some heads.  A real person facing real problems, obviously sympathetic to the ideals of the people in this forum, but thinking about how hard it will be for her to cope if things go really South.  This’ll cool things down.


Two comments after her, someone else chimed in to say:  “Hey, I sympathize.  But just because you or your husband got a government job, that doesn’t guarantee you a right to uninterrupted paychecks.  I work in the private sector, and my paycheck has been missing for a couple of weeks now.  So you and your husband can just suck it.”

Wow.  Just . . . wow.  So much lizard-brain on display, and what can you possibly say in response to something like that?

* * *

But . . . back to our story.

When we left, the Dems had agreed to $5 Billion more in spending cuts than the Republicans had originally asked for.  And the Republicans had agreed to drop all of their social “riders” on the Budget Bill . . . except for that pesky ‘women’s health’ issue.  That was staying in.  And that was the sticking point.

Now, it is important to understand precisely what was NOT at issue here.  This had nothing to do with abortion.  The law of the land, for several decades now, has been that no federal funds whatsoever can be spent on abortion.  And no federal funds have been spent on abortion.  So this had nothing to do with cutting off “funding for abortion.” (I know, I know . . . this may not be the story you have heard.  If you’ve heard a different story, please change the channel to something other than Fox News.)

It is also important to understand that this was NOT about cutting off federal funding of Planned Parenthood.  Yes, some of the funds in question would have gone to Planned Parenthood.  And, yes, Planned Parenthood is the largest recipient of these funds.  But – still – Planned Parenthood, big as it is, only gets a quarter of these funds.  75% of the monies under discussion go to smaller, less well-known groups . . . most of them private clinics servicing the poor.  And because these monies cannot be spent on abortion (by law) the funds go to providing pap smears, cancer screening, STD checks and treatment, contraceptives, pregnancy tests to see if the woman might in fact be pregnant, mammograms, etc., etc., etc.

A whole host of services designed to do nothing more than keep women – who, biologically, are forced to bear the greatest part of the burden of sex – healthy.  And the funds go to help the poorest of these women, to provide the care that they – like all women – need, but too often cannot get.

And, finally, let’s remember.  The provision of these funds was signed into law under Title X of the Civil Rights Act by Richard Milhouse Nixon – Republican.  And it wasn’t a problem for him, or for Gerald Ford, or for Ronald Reagan, or for George Bush I, or for George Bush II.  Five Republican presidencies . . . and it wasn’t a problem for any of them.  And nothing has changed about the funding, and nothing has changed about the law, and nothing has changed about why this is still a good idea.

So what changed?

The radicalization of the New (Tea-Improved) Republican Party.

* * *

As of just a few hours ago, the Republican party was threatening to shut down the federal government, refuse payment to its troops, in order to prevent poor women from getting pap smears, mammograms and cancer screenings.

Unbe – fucking -- lievable.

* * *

So, last night, I was sitting on my porch and thinking about this.  ‘How has it come to this?’ I thought, ‘this seems truly insane.’

Then I remembered my conversation with my mother some months ago, and how I predicted the government might be forced to shut down because of this stupidity and I realized – Hey! – if the government does in fact shut down, then now we will know exactly who is in charge of the Republican party.

Last night, at 7:00, there was no logical reason why a deal couldn’t be worked out.  The only reason the government might shut down is because the Crazies had actually taken over the Asylum that is today’s Republican Party.  If that happened it would be tragic but, also, kind of ironic.

I mean . . . let’s face it. 

Since at least the days of Ronnie Raygun, the Republican party has been the party of the elite, the monied, the aristocrats.  But Ronnie brought something new to the mix:  Ronnie was able to marry the monied elite to the religious hoi polloi:   “Whip ‘em up, get ‘em out, tell ‘em about gays, or abortion, or stem cell research . . . so long as those dumb bastards vote us into office, they’ll never notice that we’re stealing from them.  Just remember to make a frowny-face whenever the Supreme Court is forced to tell them that Jesus really wasn’t a Founding Father.  Dumbasses!”

But this has been going on for a coupla decades now, and the rubes who grew up with it are now the Republican Young Leaders who are intent on running the party and, in fact, they are running the party.  And they tend to take this kind of shit seriously.

So it didn’t really surprise me that we were facing a government shutdown showdown about whether or not poor women should get pap smears.  The people insurgent in today’s Republican Party –

* * *

(And, yeah, I’m talking about the Teabaggers.  Let there be no mistake.  This isn’t a grassroots phenomenon, these people are not “equally mad at both parties.”  These people are the far right fringe-group of the GOP, and they are led about by their economic betters the way they always have been.

(I mean, seriously . . . have you even paid attention to what they’ve been doing since they’ve been in office?  Not a single Jobs Bill in the works over at the House of Representatives, but more than half a dozen bills focusing on abortion. 

(The Teabaggers are the Religious Right nutjobs . . . they just got a little better marketing.)

* * *

[sorry] – are the people who grew up with a load of swill about how the government funds abortion (it doesn’t) and how Planned Parenthood’s main focus is abortion.  (It isn’t.  About 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion services . . . but that didn’t prevent Sen. Jon Kyl from taking the floor of the Senate 3 days ago to proclaim that the only reason anybody would ever go to Planned Parenthood is to abort a baby.  First, someone else’s health is none of Kyl’s business.  But – Second – he’s a lying shit-faced weasel.)

As of 9:00 last night, there was absolutely no reasonable, logical purpose for the government to shut down.  Boehner wanted a deal, the Dems wanted a deal, Obama wanted a deal . . . .   But Oh! the clarity if it did!

If the government did shut down, it would have meant that we really were beyond the looking glass, that we had swallowed the red pill.  Things were about to get weird.

And I was ready for it, man.  As HST said:  “When the Going gets Weird, the Weird turn Pro.”  I was so there.

* * *

But . . . I saw on my computer, around 10:30 that a deal had been reached.  The Republicans had at last agreed to the Dems’ final olive branch, and had agreed to $38B in cuts, and had agreed that poor women could still get cancer screenings.  Whew.  The news would come out about 20 minutes later, “top of the hour,” at 11:00.

So . . . government crisis averted, things are A-OK, and I guess that’s a wrap, people..

* * *

Which, like I said at the beginning, makes understanding what happened just a little more . . .   difficult.

If the shutdown had occurred because of women’s health issues – that, I could kind of understand:  Republicans are just crazy.

But, now, I have to take into account that maybe the Republicans aren’t nearly as crazy as I think they are.  Maybe, just maybe, the Republicans rolled the Dems by only acting crazy.  (All good Presidential historians will recognize that this was Nixon’s idea for dealing with the North VietNamese:  “Let’em think I’ll do it, Henry.  Let’em think I’ll actually drop The Bomb.   That’ll bring those slant-eyed bastards to the table.”)

And, y’know . . . maybe.

But I still don’t believe it (even though, I’ll admit, I mostly don’t believe it because I can’t see the modern Republican party as anything but bugfuck insane).

Whenever I am confronted with uncertainty about the people around me, and why they do the things that they do, and the distinct possibility that they are operating out of a sense of evil purpose, or clandestine motives, or as a part of a huge conspiratorial network . . . . .

I remember that most people are just like me.  And I don’t know what the HELL I am doing, that I am just making it up as I go.

So that gives me hope.  That the crazy Teabaggers, the Birthers, the Koch Brothers, and Me . . . we’re all on the same playing field, making it up as we go.

Let’s see what tomorrow’s game brings.

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