What would you do if 87 troublemakers came to your town and tried to shut it down?
Think of Washington as "Our Town," my fellow Americans, because it is just that. The federal city, which George Washington himself surveyed on horseback, belongs to all of us. The federal government is "our friend" to the people, not just because it sends out Social Security checks. (Thanks, Franklin Delano Roosevelt!) It delivers our mail, enforces laws of the land, houses millions of books in the Library of Congress, including Thomas Jefferson's collection, protects our food, drugs, air, water, and parklands. It investigates crimes, conducts scientific and medical research, keeps a standing military, directs air traffic, watches over elegant art museums free and open to the public, and regulates the airwaves. Sound good?
Like a fine orchestra, it does sound good, greater than the sum of its parts. Think of my chum, young Alexander Hamilton up there on the podium. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the GOP.]
A rough new crowd is roaming the Capitol halls, and they don't know much about civics or civility. Nor is democratic, diverse civilization a strong suit. The 87 freshman House Republicans came not to save our village, but to destroy it. George, Tom, and Abe, we'll defend you till we draw our last breath! But there are not enough minutemen to go around the huge World War II Memorial.
In threatening to shut down the whole show, these newcomers are forcing wiser heads to consider the "suggested" budget they passed, full of more ugly slashes than the entire nation has seen in memory. They make former Speaker Newt Gingrich's class of 1994 GOP frosh look like kindergarten. If they had tried to hurt the American people further as we recover from the Great Recession (thanks, George W. Bush!), they could not have done a better job. If they have their way, serious job losses are likely to result, dour economists say, and for once I believe them.
The new speaker, John Boehner, just gives them a pass, a smoky smile, and little adult supervision. They are saving him work and making him look like a tan, fit, reasonable man from Ohio. The class of 87 does get PowerPoint presentations on the budget, which leadership keeps simple: "Lift the crushing burden of debt." [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the deficit and national debt.]
Therein lies the Democratic strategic flaw. From President Obama down to the few new Democrats in the House, they have not engaged, challenged, or corrected this debt assumption, which now hangs thick over the budget process. The federal government should not contract when the economy is weak. On the contrary, it can be an engine of growth and job creation. Democratic senators, late to this debate, may be forced to have it on House Republican terms—though they control the upper chamber. They need to be awakened to the imminent danger.
The House Republican aggressive effort to "defund" Planned Parenthood is probably the unkindest cut, showing hostility when it comes to controlling women's choices. Very few of the 87 newcomers have ever been pregnant. This point on the board has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with a pointed political agenda. These guys are taking women prisoners first. [See a slide show of 10 effects of a government shutdown.]
That brings me to say to our town before I go off galloping on a midnight ride: Don't let them take the federal government away, not for a single day.