If a foreign power set out to eliminate the United States as an economic, military and political rival, it couldn’t come up with a better scheme than the one playing out in Washington right now.
This would be the strategy: Infiltrate the government. Then cripple it to keep it from paying its bills or honor its debts.
It would lose respect worldwide as well as within its own financial markets.
Its military would be demoralized. Its citizens would be disillusioned, their faith in their country shattered.
Inflation would soar, unemployment right behind it. The dollar would lose its place as a universal standard.
With the nation’s credit rating ruined, it would cost even more to service the debt, growing the deficit beyond any normal bounds.
Even as he vowed, “We will bury you,” Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, could not have dreamed so wildly.
But as I write this, that is precisely the extortion strategy of the minority faction which controls the House of Representatives.
It is disloyal in every respect.
They lost the presidential race last year in which the Affordable Health Care Act was the dominant issue.
They lost their attempt to take over the Senate. And they would have lost the House too had it been fairly districted.
But no matter. They are hell-bent to have their way.
Not since the Civil War have so few threatened so much harm to so many.
Despite the danger, President Obama and the Senate cannot surrender to this blackmail. They must not.
The stakes have become far more immense than whether the Affordable Health Care Act will be delayed for a year as a tactic for destroying it at the next opportunity — before the public can learn to like it.
They’re greater than whether this president’s signature achievement will be repudiated and his reputation ruined by people who hate him because he won and — with some –because he’s black.
This is very different from the previous shutdowns and cliffhangers. In those cases, the dispute was simply over how much money to spend. (The sequester, a clumsy, wholly unsatisfactory expedient, was the outcome of the last one.)
It’s different from the conventional filibuster, which is traditionally employed to prevent the passage of legislation.
The issue is whether a radical minority can leverage its control of one part of one branch of the government to paralyze the whole of it; to force the repeal, or enactment, of whatever it wishes whenever the government’s debts come due.
This time, it’s superficially about the undoing of the most important social legislation since Social Security and Medicare.
If the radicals succeed this time, what’s next?
To means-test Social Security? To means-test Medicare? To turn them in effect into welfare programs, a sure and intended step to their destruction?
The parasitical plutocrats who financed the Tea Party do cherish that ambition.
Or might they even demand the president’s resignation as the price of allowing the government to continue to function?
The precedent that would be set by surrendering to them this time is unbearably bad, worse than even the near-term consequences, however costly, of letting them sabotage our economy and our prestige.
Because what it comes down to is the simple question another president expressed on a bloody battlefield 150 years ago.
Will government of the people, for the people, and by the people long endure?
What an irony for this sesquicentennial.