As some in the GOP try to end the House-led government shutdown over Obamacare, a centuries-old fault line reasserts itself.
During President Obama’s first State of the Union speech on Sept. 9, 2009, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) broke congressional etiquette by screaming “You lie!” to the president as the president explained that his proposed health care reform — which would eventually become the Affordable Care Act (the ACA or “Obamacare”) would not cover illegal immigrants. Despite a rebuking before the House, an apology to the president and Wilson’s office attesting that the outburst was spontaneous, a Labor Day tweet posted by the representative suggested that the action — as minor as it seems — was planned.
“Happy Labor Day! Wonderful parade at Chapin, many people called out to oppose Obamacare which I assured them would be relayed tomorrow to DC,” the tweet from Wilson’s account said.
While Wilson’s outburst was not the only demonstration done at that State of the Union — Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) wore a sign around his neck saying “What bill?” in regard to the president’s health care proposal and a small group of legislators shook stacks of paper over their head when the president asked for the Republicans’ ideas to overhaul health care — Wilson’s act personified the seemingly endless series of attacks, stall tactics and obstructionism that would mark the Congress after the 2010 Republican capture of the House.
Many now feel that the political landscape has split into two, and it is not Republicans versus Democrats anymore. This split is best represented in the current federal government shutdown, in which the Republicans are actively blocking a continuation of the previous continuing resolution — which would fund the federal government temporarily in lieu of a full-year budget — because the Democrats would not agree to delay or defund the Affordable Care Act.
A splitting party
The Republicans, since 2011, have attempted to curtail the ACA 41 times, have challenged it repeatedly in state courts, partially lost a Supreme Court decision that ruled the legislation constitutional but flawed and lost a presidential election that quickly became a referendum on the president’s social policies — including the ACA.
Despite this, the Republicans’ driving obsession is “have we done enough to stop Obamacare?” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it the “single worst piece of legislation passed in the last 50 years in the country.” Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) called it “the most dangerous piece of legislation ever passed by a Congress” and “the most existential threat to our economy … since the Great Depression.” Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli harked back to the Fugitive Slave Acts for a comparative affront to liberty.
While the Congressional Republicans under the last two Congresses have not blushed away from taking the legislative process “hostage” — a refusal to confirm judicial and Executive Branch nominees; an insistence on the automatic filibuster on all legislation, forcing 60 votes for approval of all new laws and a systematic rejection of all political postures the president holds, even if it is a posture the Republicans held previously — this recent move to allow the government to collapse unless they got their way have even taken some in their own party aback.
As reported by ThinkProgress, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told MSNBC that a shutdown was “going to hurt the Republicans. I do, but more importantly I think it’s going to hurt the American people.” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) stated, “I’m prepared to vote for a clean resolution tomorrow… It’s time to govern. I don’t intend to support a fool’s errand at this point.” Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said, “Obamacare is definitely not ready for prime time. But I do not want the government to shut down. I think after voting against it some 40 times, we have represented our constituents and made our point.”
Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) said, “[A]s a lifelong and consistent supporter of women’s rights and health care, I do not support addressing divisive social issues such as access to birth control on a last-minute continuing resolution.’’ Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) remarked, “We should not be closing down the government under any circumstances … That doesn’t work, it’s wrong, and, you know, Obamacare passed. We have to try to defund it, we have to try to find ways to repeal it. But the fact is, we shouldn’t be using it as a threat to shut down the government.” Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fl.) commented, “The shutdown doesn’t do anything to help our reputation as an incompetent Congress … People hire us not to get to this point in the first place.”
Finally, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) stated, “That’s the battle that’s going on in my party. There are some that are saying, ‘shut it down! … If we shut the government down, who’s going to fund the [Veteran Affairs] Hospital? Who’s going to fund the veteran who doesn’t have a leg? Who’s going to fund the FBI who’s working on a counter-terrorism case? Who’s going to fund cancer research?”
Wolf’s comment get to the core of the battle that is currently waging. It is, by far, not a new fight. It’s a fight that reflects the realities of a Republican Party that is growing with each and every passing day more and more out of communion with the changing American demographics. It is a fight that have the Republicans appearing to attack women’s rights and serving as obstructionists to social progress.
It’s a fight to define the very nature of what it means to be American.
American history and religious identity
To understand the historical underpinning of all of this, a look at the two principal American colonist groups is needed: the Puritans and the Cavaliers. The Puritans were English Calvinist exiles pushed out of Great Britain with the return of Catholicism to England under the rule of Queen Mary I. Under the English Civil War, the Puritans won a political party by opposing the deposed throne. However, after the Restoration, the Puritans found themselves to be political pariah and although Puritanism died in England — particularly, after attempts to reform the Church of England failed in the 1640s — Puritanism survived in North America under the Puritan colonies.
As Calvinists, the Puritans believed in “the Elected,” or the notion that some have been predestined for Heaven despite personal conditions of the saved, while others have been predestined for Hell. While it is impossible to say if a person has been predestined in life, a person can demonstrate the likelihood of being “elected” by proving to be a virtuous person — by working hard, being self-proficient, being dutiful and faithful and keeping the faith. In doing this, a person does not only prove their “worth to God,” he reinforces a notion of “being right” or righteousness.
Cavaliers, or the Royalists, supported Charles I in the English Civil War and Charles II during the Restoration. While the Cavaliers were originally considered warmongers, they were recognized as supporters of the throne. After the succession fight to replace Charles II, the Cavaliers that defended James II were known as Tories. While the Tories, or the Loyalists — as they were known in the American colonies — eventually were driven from America after the end of the Revolutionary War, their philosophy of power radiating from the center of government, duty to the state and sovereignty of national rule became hallmarks of the American political system and is the foundation philosophy behind the U.S. Constitution.
Since then, every major political fight in America has been split along lines of Cavalier and Puritan — those that celebrates the nation as a singular unit against those that recognize individuals and believe that wasting time on those that won’t promote or help themselves belittles everyone involved. From the Civil War to today’s government shutdown, the morality of helping others at personal expense has played large in both the political and spiritual understanding of what it means to be American.
For many Republicans in Congress, this represents a true trap. While it is clear that supporting the government shutdown and pushing for a repeal or defunding of the ACA 41 times seems like political malpractice, for voters that have had their Puritan sensibilities hardened from a never-ending campaign of spin and posturing, any attempt to “back away from the brink” by the House Republicans would be interpreted as selling out — opening House incumbents to costly primary battles with extremist candidates. Those most sensitive to this, along with extreme-right members of the House, are now at war with the mainstream and moderate Republicans who are desperate to end the shutdown.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that more Americans blame the Republicans for the shutdown than the Democrats. As the Republican civil war rages on, with more money being spent on anti-ACA media buy-ins, the establishment of primary-funding political action committees such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and the public attacking of fellow Republicans, the fight between those that believe in the sanctity of self against those that believe in the sanctity of the state threatens to not only destroy the Republican Party, but throw the whole of the nation into the abyss.