Let's begin at the beginning. Government is neither inherently good nor evil. In fact, government is one of the most noble institutions to come from the mind of man. Civilization exists because humankind created government. It's the government that insures you can sleep safely in your bed at night.
This whole "government is bad" theory began in 1964 with Barry Goldwater and came to fruition with the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan. The nation has yet to recover from that failed experiment in less government, but the delusional Tea Party caucus keeps the Reagan myth alive with the help of a few reactionary Democrats who have accepted the Reagan lie as common wisdom.
In reality, government is only as good or bad as the elected representatives that populate public offices. So, at this moment, I would have to agree that our government is pretty rotten. Blame it on the Tea Party zealots who went to Washington not to serve the people, but with an ideological axe to grind. Combine that with a Democratic party that can't seem to locate its spine and we have the most dysfunctional Congress in modern history. The government only mirrors the electorate, however, so the voters who put the Tea Party in a position of power are pretty much getting exactly what they deserve. It's the rest of us that don't deserve the incompetence of the House Republicans and their reckless disregard for compromise or reason.
The Tea Party discusses debts and deficits as if they knew what they were talking about, but the unifying glue of its members is an irrational hatred of Barack Obama. The cretin wing of the GOP mistakenly believe that if they wreck the economy of the United States, the populace will somehow blame their extortion on the president. And their stated goal has always been to deprive Obama of a second term by using 1960s Black Panther tactics: By any means necessary.
Like most people outside of the Beltway, I had never heard the phrase, "debt ceiling," before the raging mob made an issue of it. That's because it was never newsworthy before. It was bookkeeping and it always passed, regardless of symbolic opposition, because no sane legislator would dream of putting the nation's credit rating in jeopardy and risk an historic financial crisis for no good reason. But this Republican party turned a non-issue into an unprecedented partisan drama, causing a week-long drop in the stock market and provoking a warning from Moody's credit rating agency. The Tea Party cabal is on a mission of self-fulfilling prophesy: They tell you that the government is bad, and then go about proving it. This crowd came to Washington to "reform" government, but they operate like reverse Robin Hoods, stealing from the poor to give to the rich. Hey patriots, wanna' support the troops? Pay 'em!
The GOP/Frank Luntz mantra of the moment is, "We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem," which proves they all got the same memo and can lie in unison. However, any independent study shows that after a decade of tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy and two wars on your dime, we actually do have a revenue problem. Yet the radical Republicans refuse to even consider allowing tax rates to return to Clinton era levels, before everything went to shit. They will protect the estates of their benefactors if it means gutting Social Security and public education to do so. The proper term for anyone who would take action to willfully damage the country is, "traitor," yet none dare call it treason.
In the Democratic Party's darkest days of granting safe harbor to Southern racist senators and congressmen, the tobacco chewers never controlled the party, and civil rights legislation was passed despite them. In today's GOP, it's the bomb-throwers who are calling the shots. The Tea Party turned an ordinary procedural vote into a hostage situation, and we were the hostages.
The most macabre aspect of last week's congressional Circus of Horrors is that it never had to happen. With millions unemployed, struggling to hold on to their homes with decimated retirement accounts, people are frightened enough without the Tea Party renegades threatening to renege on Social Security and welfare payments. Technically, we may not be in a Depression, but tell that to the unemployed single mother who is worried if her food stamps will arrive in time to feed her kids. Or the elderly retiree who depends on the government check he labored all his life to earn.
Ironically, a recent Pew poll showed that evangelical Christians make up 57 percent of the Tea Party's membership. You might imagine that an enlightened and benevolent politics would follow the teachings of Jesus, who said, "As ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." As for Grover Norquist and the hammerlock pledge of "no-new-taxes-ever" that he demands be signed by all the Republican sheep, Jesus also said, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God, the things that are God's." As a lay student of comparative religion, it sounds to me what Jesus was saying is to quit whining and pay your freaking taxes. In fact, merely allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would make an enormous dent in the deficit.
Obama called for a "balanced approach" of spending cuts and revenue increases. The Tea Party only wanted to cut social programs. Among the right-wing's complaints about the president is that he comes straight out of Chicago, arm-twisting, machine politics. Yet, he appears to be one of the worst negotiators since Neville Chamberlain. Obama was elected because he is obviously a man of great talent and ability. How disheartening it is to watch him forced by obstructionists to squander his limitless potential in petty political arguments and spend the greatest part of his first term swatting gnats.
I voted for Obama, and likely will again, but sometimes his detached equanimity can be exasperating. As much as I admire the president, sometimes I'd like to see someone light a fire under his ass. If I could, I would like to say to him: "Mr. President, there is no negotiating with the House Republicans. They hate your guts and want to sabotage your administration, yet you continue to offer concession after concession. No one is happy with these foolish 'debt negotiations.' We expect our elected officials to do their jobs, but they are wasting time better spent in job creation and recovery efforts."
And one more thing, with all due respect, my dear professor, "It's the tax cuts, stupid."
Randy Haspel writes the blog Born-Again Hippies, where a version of this column first appeared.