The current federal government shutdown is nothing but a reckless, self-serving act by right-wing Republicans.
The tea party wing of the GOP, at the urging of Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, decided to shut down the federal government on Oct. 1 unless President Obama defunded the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Obama properly describes this as politics by extortion. The Affordable Care Act represents one of the president's top achievements and a huge moral advance for this country. It prohibits insurance companies from not covering people with pre-existing conditions, and it provides subsidies for people who can't afford insurance, among other valuable benefits.
Cruz and his cohorts knew they didn't have the power to overturn the law. After all, the Senate is still controlled by Democrats, and Obama would veto any bill that defunded the act. So the tea party politicians decided they wouldn't provide funding to the entire government unless Obama and the Democrats ditched the Affordable Care Act.
This is a childish tantrum, and many Republicans in the Senate disapprove of the strategy.
But in the House, Speaker John Boehner has refused to restrain the tea party and hasn't yet brought a continuing resolution to the floor for an up or down vote.
As a result, much of the federal government has been out of business. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees have been involuntary furloughed and are wondering how to pay their bills. National parks and monuments are closed. Important services provided by the federal government and federally funded contractors are not being provided.
Now, the tea party Republicans are also demanding concessions from Democrats before agreeing to raise the debt limit. This is just as senseless. The deficit has dropped from 10 percent of the gross domestic product to just 4 percent in the last four years. Spending is already squeezed by the harsh sequester cuts that are still in place.
Over the weekend, Cruz and Lee joined former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and 200 demonstrators in front of the White House for a strange protest supporting the government shutdown.
The protesters called, among other things, for Obama to be impeached and referred to him a Muslim. A Confederate flag, a symbol of racism to many millions of Americans, flew in the crowd.
With its anti-Obama rhetoric, the tea party is inviting this kind of ignorance and hatred.
History will not look well upon it.
Brian Gilmore is a poet and public interest lawyer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Brian Gilmore.
Photo: Flickr user Emran Kassim, creative commons licensed.