Shutting down the federal government is a hostile act against civil society.
The Civil War started 150 years ago in April 1861, and we are still getting over it, still talking about it, still writing about it. Some in the South have still not made peace with the end of the Civil War and hold fast to "heroes," notably General Robert E. Lee. President Abraham Lincoln showed what he thought of Lee when he seized Arlington, Lee's stately home and slave plantation across the Potomac River, and started burying the dead Union soldiers in the ground there.
Lincoln's message could not be clearer: Leading an assault on the Union was not a Sunday picnic in the country. Serious consequences followed, hitting home.
Now we have a band of rebels—87 of them newcomers—in the House Republican majority, who are fixin' for a fight. Spoiling to see the Capitol Dome go dark. Acting as if that's the mission, the reason they crossed lines to come into the heart of the enemy. Washington is a staging ground for their defiant anger at the Union. The republic is under a new kind of siege.
If they have their way, the federal government will be closed this time next week, not what we need right now with so many American households hanging by a thread. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]
Now a few facts to concentrate the mind. First, the Tea Party is part of the problem. But hold the whole lot of House Republicans and their leaders responsible. If there are any grown-ups in the House, they are allowing their most radical element, unschooled freshmen, to dominate in a delicate showdown looming with the Senate and the White House. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the Tea Party.]
Second, remember the Senate is controlled by a Democratic majority, a fact conveniently forgotten by the lower chamber, whose members often brag about the last election. The 2010 outcome was actually an evenly divided government, with a Democratic president to play his part in final outcomes, laws, and budgets. That's the way it should be, if Senate Democrats and President Obama will only stand up to the rebels.
Third, the scope of the House Republican "defunding" demands is tantamount to waging war on our civil society as we know it. I don't mean just NPR. Some of the priceless "commons" are at risk, in the proposed degradation of environmental programs. Social programs like family planning and women's health are on the chopping block in an offensive against women's health and reproductive rights. Chris Van Hollen, a House Democrat from Maryland, reads it right: Across the aisle is an extreme agenda to impose a right-wing ideology on town and country, using budget cuts as a vehicle. [See who donates the most money to your member of Congress.]
Fourth and finally, whether $33 billion or $60 billion is cut from the budget, it will be too much. For the collective health of the nation, either number is like going on a diet when you're starving. It's really no use the two congressional chambers meeting in the middle, because the rebels can say they won the day—and they might be "right" in more ways than one. They skewed the debate by passing their draconian budget early and talking it up every day since.
What the GOP House freshmen lack in knowledge, they make up with sophomoric enthusiasm. They are so gung ho to camp out in the dark. Remembering Lincoln, don't let the rebels take over and turn the lights out on us.