The 2013 Republican shutdown of the United States government could be far more damaging to the country than the previous GOP-led crusade that used extortion as a tactic to try to force the hand of a Democratic president.
In 1995, the Republicans demanded steep cuts in Medicare as well as the wholesale dismantling of virtually every other social program. Then, as now, they tried to force the president to capitulate to a fantasy wish list of right-wing policy prescriptions through holding the government hostage. Then, as now, they claimed to be speaking for “the American people.” Today they’ve added the U.S. Senate to their target list, demanding that not only the President bow down to their ultimatum, but also the Democratic majority in that chamber.
But back in 1995, the American middle class had not been bludgeoned economically for over a decade prior. The 1990s economy grew comparatively well with relatively low unemployment and some wage gains. Today, the country has yet to “recover” from the Wall Street-induced economic collapse of 2008; 401(k)s have been drained, unemployment remains persistently high, and wages for the vast majority of working people have stagnated.
In 1995 we didn’t have Gilded Age levels of income and wealth inequality as we do today, and the Federal Reserve wasn’t forced to buy $85 billion in bonds every month to stave off economic recession.
Also, in 1995, the country wasn’t reeling from two costly and debilitating land wars abroad that claimed the lives of over 6,000 American soldiers and wounded tens of thousands more, with all the attendant costs of taking care of those who served.
The 1995 hostage taking was really a partial closure of the government compared to today. Many of the big appropriation bills, including a farm bill, had been already passed. Today, the Republican Congress, even prior to this pathetic final act of dysfunction, showed itself to be incapable of passing any bill that might help ordinary people.
The U.S. economy today is in far too precarious a position to be playing these reckless games of political brinkmanship.
In 1995, there was no Fox News beating the partisan war drums and contributing mightily to sealing off Far-Right Republicans from social reality.
Moreover, in 1995, there was no Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court dousing our politics with even more cash from billionaires like the Koch Brothers and their front groups like “Generation Opportunity,” who seem not only determined to undermine President Barack Obama at every turn but to turn back the clock to a period when workers, consumers, women, and minorities were disfranchised.
In 1995, the Republican Party had not yet become as Southernized as it is today and GOP “moderates” still roamed the earth. And we didn’t have an African-American president who has been the target of racially tinged venom even before he took office. On April 15, 2009 (“tax day”), I attended one of the earliest Tea Party rallies at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Obama had been in office for about three months. He hadn’t even completed the transition from the George W. Bush administration, and there was no Affordable Care Act. But the level of hatred directed at him I witnessed that sunny spring day was astonishing, and that was long before the Far Right had anything real to be riled up about. This government shutdown is in part the toxic byproduct of those right-wingers who never recognized the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency in the first place and never will.
But there are a few similarities between 1995 and 2013.
What remains eerily similar to the 1995 Republican shutdown is the arrogance, ignorance, lies and distortions the Far Right perpetrates against the American people. Then as now, Republican “leaders,” like cuttlefish spewing ink to cloud the waters, deploy non-sequiturs, faulty logic, false talking points, and misinformation to make it impossible to have a normal discussion. The GOP extremists of today are just as full of hot air as those of yesteryear.
Then as now, theirs is the politics of the irrational.
Yet despite losing the 2012 presidential election they apparently believe they can fool enough people and tie up the government to the point where they can get everything they want.
Like 1995, the Republicans are blind to the public backlash their extremist actions are sure to elicit.
And like 1995, the corporate media insists on enforcing a false equivalency claiming “both sides” refuse to “compromise,” even though one “side,” the GOP, is burning down the House.
The Republican Party’s government shutdown engineered under the “leadership” of Speaker of the House John Boehner is one of the worst things they can do right now. The House Republicans are so determined to destroy Obama politically they’re willing to undermine the lives of millions of ordinary working people whose well being requires a functioning federal government.
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