What's it all about, Johnny?
Is it just for the moment we live?
What's it all about when you sort it out, Johnny?
Are we meant to take more than we give?
-- With apologies to Burt Bacharach
John Boehner and the rest of the Republicans Party can’t answer the question: What’s it all about?
Republicans don’t know what the government shutdown is about, as indicated by this not-very-thoughtful remark from Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.): “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
No wonder Rep. Stutzman is confused. Republicans first refused to pass legislation to keep the government running unless Democrats agreed to defund Obamacare. Then House Republicans tried to delay Obamacare, or delay parts of Obamacare. That was followed by attempts to fund parts of the government without any reference to Obamacare.
Speaker John Boehner didn’t provide much clarity over the weekend, while admitting to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that tying Obamacare to funding the government was not his idea. “I thought the fight would be over the debt ceiling,” Boehner said on This Week. “But you know, working with my members, they decided, well, let's do it now. And the fact is, this fight was going to come, one way or the other. We're in the fight.”
Not knowing what the fight is about makes it difficult to figure out what the endgame should be, which is why the hapless Marlin Stutzman is clueless about what Republicans have to get out of the shutdown.
Already, the finger pointing has begun. “You really have to call [Senator Ted] Cruz,” said Representative Devin Nunes, California Republican and Boehner loyalist, when asked about the GOP’s plans. “I’m not even joking about that. That’s really what you have to do, because he’s the one that set up the strategy, he’s the one that got us into this mess, and so we’ve got to know what the next move is.”
Cruz is symptomatic of the modern Republican Party, which Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein point out has become “an insurgent outlier in American politics,... ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of its political opposition.”
It’s no wonder that politicians “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts” are willing to let the United States go into default. Let the experts discuss how catastrophic a default would be; what do the experts know?
Evidence is mounting that some Republican supporters are having second thoughts. The Washington Post reports that constituents are beginning to question the tactics and priorities of some tea party-backed members of Congress. Tea party-favorite Justin Amash, who represents Gerald Ford’s old district in western Michigan, may face opposition from a moderate Republican who has backing from business leaders tired of right-wing obstruction and governing by crisis.
Other ultraconservative House members in Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee may be challenged by moderates in GOP primaries in 2014.
There also are murmurings that longtime Republican donors -- angered by extremist demands -- may close their checkbooks during the 2014 midterm elections.
E.J. Dionne, Jr., may be overly optimistic in calling the shutdown “the tea party’s last stand.” Still, there is little doubt that many in the Republican Party, who have impeccable conservative credentials, are beginning to question the wisdom of Ted Cruz and other antigovernment, Obama-hating extremists who forced this unnecessary and unwinnable strategy on the party.
Sensible conservatives may agree that this is the Seinfeld Shutdown: About absolutely nothing. But until they speak up, the Cruz’s of the GOP will continue their reckless attack on the government and the credit of the United States.