The Austin Chronicle

Point Austin: What's at Stake

Health care is just the hostage to a fanatical attack on democracy

By Michael King, October 18, 2013, News

As the Chronicle goes to press midday Wednesday, it appears that at the last moment, saner heads have finally prevailed in Washington and a temporary deal has been achieved to raise the federal debt ceiling (itself a foolish construction) and reopen the government. That the deal is only temporary reflects the fact that there is still insufficient sanity on hand; as likely as not, we'll have to endure another round of this nonsense early next year, with reverberating destruction to basic institutions as well as the international economy.

Make no mistake, even if the U.S. has temporarily dodged literal default, there's been plenty of damage already, as briefly summarized today by Joan Walsh in Salon. "Roughly 800,000 people have been furloughed for more than two weeks. People have been denied life-saving experimental drug trials. Kids have lost a chance at Head Start. And the default threat is already hurting the country, and costing everyone money. Interest rates are already climbing. The government is paying more on its debt. Consumer confidence has dipped. Our political dysfunction has made us a global disgrace."

The real hardships caused by the shutdown and the threat of more chaos – hardly noticed by the perpetrators, who respond only when business travelers complain of airline delays – are amplified by the damage done to supposedly representative processes. "What we have already witnessed," noted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, "is the hijacking of the democratic process by a few dozen extremists in the House who are actively trying to annul the results of the last election. This sets a terrible precedent for the legislative process and will likely be repeated year after year."

Sanders shouldn't forget our own senatorial extremist from Texas, Ted Cruz, who did his level best to sabotage any resolution of the crisis. Cruz simultaneously surrendered and declared victory this morning, praising Republican House members for their "profiles in courage," and blaming his fellow GOP senators for not holding together sufficiently to extend the manufactured disaster.

Wishing for Hutchison

Texans are of course long familiar with Cruz Syndrome, since the current state leadership has proven itself willing to do virtually anything to prevent a quarter of the state's population from achieving access to basic health care, whether via the Children's Health Insurance Program, Med­ic­aid, the Women's Health Program, or now the Affordable Care Act. That their headline-grabbing crusade has served to obscure the computer rollout difficulties with Obamacare is hardly to their credit; where states established their own exchanges rather than be obstructionist, the enrollments have reportedly been steady.

The Cruz melodrama has not been without its comic moments. Today the Houston Chronicle oh-so-belatedly withdrew its 2012 endorsement of Cruz for Senate, wanly wishing that former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutch­ison had never left. The benighted editors had only endorsed him in the first place against Democrat Paul Sadler because they believed Sadler couldn't win and his campaign was an "exercise in futility." That meant a grudging endorsement for Cruz, embodied in this childishly wishful thinking: "We expect Cruz as the senator from the Lone Star State to spend his energies standing up for Texans of every background and economic station, representing their best interests from health care and education to energy, space and medicine."

Cruz had done nothing of the kind either as solicitor general (where he fought to undermine voting rights, expand gun access, and defend capital punishment) nor as Tea Party-pandering candidate (where he repeatedly promised to do exactly what he has done). Why on earth did the Chronicle editors expect him to change his spots once elected? In the institutional media and among the conventional pundits, there has been a persistent, willful blindness to the notion that the insurrectionists are not serious about their intentions to do whatever they can to sabotage or destroy the Obama presidency, with the health care initiative merely the most visible hostage to that much larger objective.

More Extortion Ahead

This week the GOP "moderate" defeated by Cruz, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, reinforced the apocalyptic lesson he learned in that campaign by calling for the president's impeachment. In his bid for re-election, he and his three GOP opponents are running as hard to the far right as they possibly can. Our national politics have increasingly become Texas politics writ large: a very small group of fanatical, anti-government rightists are dictating to the Republican Party an extremely narrow, extremist agenda that has little popular support. But it has plenty of monied support, as well as a repeatedly demonstrated willingness to push the entire country to the brink of disaster to extort otherwise unachievable political concessions.

That's not going to change. What's less clear is whether mainstream outlets like the state's major newspapers (let alone TV networks) will ever learn the consequences of reporting politics like a horse race among equals, or of engaging in the false equivalencies of describing Tea Party saboteurs as just another interest group promoting its civil agenda. What's at stake here isn't simply one health care bill or one administration. The insurrectionists have made it clear that despite their minority-within-a-minority status, they will monkey­wrench the works of the democratic process in any way necessary to get what they (and their corporate underwriters) demand.

Unless the sane majority of the community, in Texas and nationally, becomes more willing to stand up and denounce these tinpot insurrectionists for their irrational and fanatical sabotage of our basic political institutions – all in the name of restricting health care and unelecting a president in the bargain – that extortion will continue. Come 2014, we can expect another round of willful insanity.

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