The three most important children in my life are my 13 and six year-old nieces, and a four year-old step-granddaughter. Since President Obama’s election to the nation’s highest office in November of 2008, I have given a lot of thought to how I might try to explain the rapid disintegration of the nation’s political discourse. A good portion of the gridlock is certainly old-fashioned ideological difference, but it has been clear for years that other forces are at play. As these girls I love are of mixed race heritage, and all growing up in ethnically diverse households, tolerance is fortunately, their experiential norm.
So trying to account for the rancorous, divisive dogmatism and xenophobia (let us never forget that the Tea Party Nation was a key influence on the Birther movement) that has presently brought the daily functions of government to a screeching halt is somewhat challenging. It is incredibly disheartening and frustrating on a personal level, but I grew up in an era (the 1980s) where my conservative, immigrant grandparents comfortably trafficked in ethnic stereotypes and epithets, even as my kid sister and I cringed in embarrassment.
The next generation of our family is rather blissfully unaware that it was once considered socially acceptable to draw attention to, and pass judgment upon “otherness.” There will always be unfortunate exceptions, but by and large, day-to-day interactions in their world are characterized by public courtesy, regardless of privately held beliefs. The common American has taken a great public leap forward in this respect.
So how to clarify the feral, mean-spirited and utterly defeatist Republican goal of rendering the POTUS a one-term President? Just two days after the 2010 midterm elections, NBC News characterized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as offering “an aggressive assessment of the results, calling for votes to erode the reach of the health care law that was a signature of the Obama administration.”
The Birthers, Obamacare opponents and the Republican establishment which sought to unseat the President in 2012 with the boring, one percent loving candidacy of Mitt Romney, have all lost their causes. These issues have been dealt with at the ballot box, the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion, yet so great is the distaste for our African-American President with the Muslim name on the part of certain members of privileged white society, that here we are. The first large scale shutdown of government functionality since 1995. At that time the Republican-led House, under the stewardship of Speaker Newt Gingrich, paid dearly for its gamble in the 1996 elections, which saw Democrats pickup key seats.
There is little reason to expect a different long-term outcome this time, except several other variables stand to make the “temporary” pain of shutdown more keenly felt. Many families are still reeling from the Great Recession and its sustained impact on the job market. Government employment, devastated by cash strapped local budgets and the ill effects of 2013 sequestration “bargain,” already in record decline, is in full-on furlough mode. Hardworking families across the country have just lost their paychecks, however temporarily.
And for what? Because the racist, classist, elitist guardians of white privilege can’t stand to “give in” and fund the government for six more weeks with a continuing budget resolution? NEWS FLASH: the issue of Obamacare has been settled several times over. It’s done. And despite the sustained campaign of fear and misinformation waged by the G.O.P against the American people, my fellow citizens will quickly wonder what all the fuss was about. Those who can obtain low-cost coverage from which they were excluded before because of financial or pre-existing health conditions, the many who begin to understand that they’ll no longer be one accident/illness away from insolvency, and the majority who respect the integrity of the democratic process will recoil from this disingenuous, destructive, arbitrary gamesmanship. Give it time.
But for now, I don’t know how to account for what’s happening to the very people whose future and health (mental as well as physical) I worry about most. What can I tell my girls about people willing to sacrifice the nation for the regressive, immature attitudes of the few? As awful as the situation is, I am grateful that President Obama and most of his fellow Democrats have taken a stand against blackmail. They must. Republicans have to lose this one, and badly, or what type of government paradigm are we bequeathing to our youngest? Hatred and sour grapes resulting in scorched earth tactics cannot be tolerated a day longer. For better or worse, this is a defining moment in our nation’s history, when we decide what kind of country we want to be for the rest of the 21st Century and beyond. For the sake of our children, let this pain and shame result in a better, more constructive, more tolerant future.