Friday, October 18, 2013

Tea Party Madness Needs To Be Restrained

Now that the federal shutdown is over and the U.S. government will not default on its financial obligations, let’s hope no one in this do-nothing Congress or in the White House — even though President Obama held his ground and refused to negotiate — has the audacity to gloat about such a short-term victory. For sixteen days a wave of futile negotiations underscored a stalemate as Republicans attempted to overturn the landmark health care law and demand budget reductions.
We can breathe a sigh of relief, but no celebrating, please. This fiasco has no real winner.
Guilt, however, should be directed at the Tea Party, the small Congressional caucus that engineered the shutdown, driven by a hard-nosed ambition to wreck the Affordable Care Act and, in turn, humiliate Barack Obama.
For some, “tea party” conjures up a gathering of rich, white-haired old ladies sitting around, properly sipping the brewed liquid — with their pinky fingers slightly extended — in an old-fashioned china tea set placed on a delicate tablecloth as they speak in gentle tones about the finer things in life.
Alice's Tea Party was not nearly
 as mad as the one in Congress
For others, and in classic literature, the image suggests the zany scene from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” when the characters, including Alice, the Chesire Cat, the March Hare and The Hatter attend a Mad Tea Party where time stands eternally still at teatime.
The 2013 Tea Party is the radical wing of the Republican Party, which orchestrated legislative sessions marked by bickering and blame with no avenue for compromise to the government shutdown. It’s quite obvious that the group’s playbook, from the day Barack Obama took office, and nurtured by bitter disappointment after he was re-elected, went from a daydream to harsh reality with a solitary fixation to eradicate anything proposed by this president. As a result, two dozen or so members of Congress exerted undue influence to create the impasse that shutdown the government on October 1 and who, even to the casual observer, were averse to restarting it.
After all, they must be mad to make a nation endure what were avoidable circumstances. Millions not getting paid, federal agencies and government offices closed for business. One of the most inexcusable results, which was rectified after an outcry and media headlines, was cutting off funds to families to pay for funerals of family members killed while serving overseas.
Since the shutdown, polls have shown that most of those surveyed blame Republicans for the current Congressional stalemate, even as the Obama’s ratings took a hit. However, some conservative and GOP mouthpieces went on talk shows to criticize the liberal media for influencing the national debate in favor of the Democrats. Yet, that lame excuse is never used by conservatives to explain why that bias dissipates when surveys show that a majority of Americans are not in favor of Obamacare. Despite its flaws, lack of a public option and sickeningly inflated drug prices due to excessive lobbying, the Affordable Care Act will, nonetheless, finally give access to medical care for tens of millions of uninsured Americans, as well as for those with pre-existing conditions.
The Tea Party advocates less government and a reduction in the  national debt  by reducing  spending and taxes, but the chaos they caused achieved the exact opposite.
The 16-day shutdown excluded critical functions, but proved the federal government is essential.  Besides the backlog of work that has piled up since October 1st and the hardships endured by thousands of furloughed federal employees, the crisis left an estimated $24 billion hole in our economy. For a faction in favor of welfare reform and maintains that people should not be paid for being idle, civil servants who didn’t work for over two weeks are now due back pay. How cost conscious is that?
Perhaps now the less-government advocates grasp the fact that our central government plays a crucial role in American life, which became incredibly evident when it was idled.
The shutdown has left an unmistakable black mark on American politics. Tea Party legislators held the government hostage and refused to set aside their self-absorbed ambitions to resolve critical concerns. Congressional Republicans allied with them simply because they don’t like the Affordable Care Act, which they approved, the president signed and the Supreme Court upheld.
Aren’t those kinds of checks and balances supposed to be the way our democracy works?
Though this crisis manufactured by an irrelevant group of troublemakers is over, one way to avert revisiting this sort of impasse is to stifle Tea Party extremists. They have the right to assert their views, but such a small minority should not be able to manipulate the entire GOP and stall government operations.
When midterm elections roll around next year, let’s hope conscientious voters remember that it was the GOP, led by Tea Party extremists, who aggressively refused to end the stalemate. If voters overlook the past two weeks of chaos, they’ll only have themselves to blame when another such government crisis surfaces.
The defiant contingent of legislators, who nearly led the country down the road to ruin, should be reminded that the preamble to the Constitution does not begin with We the Tea Party, but We the People. In the final chapter of the classic tale, Alice awoke from her bad dream, but as long as the Tea Party wields its right-wing pressure, the nation will teeter on the brink of another potential nightmare.