Searching America’s Soul

Progressive Values e-letter October 25, 2013
Ideas we need to talk about        HTML version

Searching America's Soul

All of the various fields of human inquiry -- theology and philosophy and morality and psychology  - meet rather
beautifully in politics. And sometimes I wonder if politics isn't exactly that,it's the taking of all the sort of great ineffable and trying to make them have some meaning in the actually historical
moment on earth in which we live.
Tony Kushner - writer of the movie "Lincoln" - interview with Bill Moyers

To all Americans -
The shutdown debacle pulled back the curtain and revealed some deep
dark issues at the core of our crisis in American democracy. There
has been an outpouring of commentary from diverse voices on a broad
range of topics within this complex scenario raising issues that have
been under the radar until now. It's now indisputable that our
American democracy is in the greatest peril since the Civil War and
change must come effectively and rapidly from the grassroots up.

Especially revealing was coverage, particularly via social media, of
the values and ideas driving the political posturing and maneuvering.
The shutdown had little to do with the actual debt or deficit and
everything to do with a narrow ideology, toxic certitude, delusions
of superiority and lust for power . Widespread consensus that this
conservative extremist worldview is dangerous gives me the moral
energy needed to continue seeking dialogue and understanding among
the citizenry.

It has been common knowledge for some time that the Republican Party
is controlled by its Tea Party faction. An entrenched hatred for
secular government and liberals is a major force in the Tea Party
ideology.

Ever-present racism and the threat of violence have grown
exponentially since the election of Barack Obama as President. The
passion of some in that fringe element is rooted in the conviction
that America is a "Christian nation" and should be ruled by Biblical
principles. This movement is called Dominionism or Reconstructionism
and has been part of the culture for many years. "End times" theology
is often a part of this mindset and came to the public's attention
during the candidacies of Gov. Sarah Palin and Gov. Rick Perry.

The fact that this faction calls themselves "Values Voters" while
they help the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, is
infuriating. Their false labeling of progressives as being "morally
deficient" and "depraved" makes me furious.

Close observers of the moral dimensions of politics have been
concerned about this right wing movement since its emergence in the
early 1980s. General awareness and alarm have been fairly low until
recently. There are many individuals and organizations within the
progressive movement and mainline Christians that are deeply involved
in confronting the hypocrisy and cruelty of this extremist ideology
but a cohesive strategy has not yet emerged. Liberals, Democrats and
Progressives have long been inept at articulating the moral values
grounding their political philosophy.

Americans treasure their democracy (even when complaining about the
government) and the principles upon which it founded. Freedom of, and
freedom from, religion along with free speech are precious to us.
Tolerance for a wide range of opinions and cultural diversity is an
American characteristic.

However, when a small faction - made up of big money, skilled
operatives, "grassroots" organizing and Members of Congress who are
motivated by this extremist right wing ideology - amasses enough
power to shut down the government, a line has been crossed.  (see
Robert Reich's comments at left).

It's critically important that citizens learn about this insurgency
and organize to fight back so that American democracy stays firmly
rooted in its inherently progressive values. There are many
components of this crisis with faith and values playing a major role.

The study of moral politics has been my priority for the past eight
years. I've collected more information than I ever thought possible
when this project began and have posted selected articles on the
internet for citizen education. All are welcome to use this body of
knowledge and those progressives with a bent for political philosophy
are strongly urged to dig in.
With audacious faith, Phyllis Stenerson

We must move ahead with audacious faith. The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   * * *

There is such a thing as a crime against the soul of a nation. A
person or a political party can deliberately incite actions that
diminish the strength, the integrity, and the overall well-being of a
nation's inner core. America's soul is in a fragile state...We see
that in the near hatred between the Republicans and Democrats,
between liberals and conservatives, between free-thinkers and
evangelicals that continues to fester...we now have a public that
cannot discern lies from truth... Crimes Against the Soul of America
by Carolyn Myss, published on Huffington Post,September 5, 2009 

Despite such terminology as "fiscal cliff" and "debt ceiling," the
great debate taking place in Washington now has relatively little to
do with financial issues. It is all about ideology. It is all about
economic winners and losers in American society. It is all about the
power of Big Money. It is all about the soul of America...We are
entering a pivotal moment in the modern history of our country. Do
the elected officials in Washington stand with ordinary Americans --
working families, children, the elderly, the poor -- or will the
extraordinary power of billionaire campaign contributors and Big
Money prevail? The American people, by the millions, must send
Congress the answer to that question. The Soul of America by Senator Bernie Sanders,
published by Common Dreams, January 9, 2013

* * *

We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness,
our selfishness and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of
attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable.
Chaplain Barry C. Black in one of his daily opening prayers in United States Senate,
New York Times,October 7, 2013

Go to www.ProgressiveValues.org for articles,
excerpts, quotations and more. To receive this e-letter directly, go
to bottom left of home page and sign up.

We are, or at least we used to be,a nation of moral ideals.
Reclaiming America's Soul by Paul Krugman,New York Times, April 24, 2009

Politics is noble because it involves personal compromise for the
public good.
Why We Love Politics by David Brooks,New York Times, November 22, 2012

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world
revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of
values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society
to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit
motives and property rights, are considered more important than
people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and
militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do not retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed.
Ruth W. Messinger

We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better
and more just world for our children.
CÉsar ChÁvez

Politics is what we create out of what we do, what we hope for,
what we dare to imagine.
Paul Wellstone

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.
Sojourner Truth

From Robert Reich, posted on Facebook:
Suppose a relatively small group financed by a handful of
billionaires (1) takes over state governments in order to redistrict,
gerrymander, require voter IDs, purge voter rolls, and otherwise
suppress the votes of the majority; (2) secretly bankrolls candidates
for these safe seats who pledge to shrink and dismember the
government; (3) then, once these candidates are elected, has them
shut down the government in order to repeal or amend laws the
plotters dislike; (4) then forces the nation to default on its debts
and thereby throws the economy into a tailspin in order to get their
way; and (5) runs a vast PR campaign to convince the American public
of big lies about laws the plotters dislike or policies they seek.
Would you call this an attempted coup d'etat? If not, what would you
call it? And what would you do about it?  Robert Reich, Facebook, October 7, 2013

Articles posted by topic include
- Seditious conspiracy
- Shutdown crisis
- Right wing religious extremism
- America's Soul
- Government's moral authority

The Spiritual Crisis Underlying American Politics By John Amodeo, PsychCentral.com, October 14, 2013    -
The shutdown of good governance by Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, October 6 , 2013
A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning by Sheryl Gay Solberg and - Mike McIntire, New York Times, October 5, 2013
Meet the Evangelical Cabal Orchestrating the Shutdown, BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013   -
Ignore the Spin: This Debt Ceiling Crisis is Not Politics as Usual by John Light, BillMoyers.com, October 9, 2013   The Radicalization of the GOP is the Most Important Political Story Today by Joshua Holland, Bill Moyers.com, October 10, 2013
Many in G.O.P. Offer Theory: Default Wouldn't Be That Bad by Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, October 8, 2013
The American Public's Shocking Lack of Policy Knowledge is a Threat to Progress and Democracy By Justin Doolittle,Truthout, October 12, 2013 
Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda By Robert Scheer, Truthdig, October 13, 2013
The Radical Christian Right and the War on Government by Chris Hedges, TruthDig.com, posted on CommonDreams.org, October 7, 2013
How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane by Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, October 9, 2013

Recent e-letters

-  Status quo or change? 9/19/13
-  The battle for America's soul 10/4/13 

Phyllis Stenerson, Paideia LLC
612.331.1929
- phyllis@progressivevalues.org phyllis@progressivevalues.org - ProgressiveValues.org
Paideia (pu-di'uh) is an ancient Greek philosophy of educating for
citizenship to create an ideal society

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The shutdown of good governance

By Fred Hiatt, Washington Post,  October , 2013

Excerpt

…the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck

another… leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality

The great fracturing – we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

Immigration and the end of a white majority – By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority.

Inadequate political institutions…In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Full text

If a country proves unable to govern itself, you expect to find a historical explanation. A plague, maybe, or chronic drought, or the rise of a hostile power on its borders.

None of those applies in the present case. To the contrary, by many measures the United States, long blessed, should be entering a new golden age. Who would have predicted 10 years ago that the United States would become, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, the world’s No. 1 energy power — producing more oil and gas combined than Russia or Saudi Arabia? While most developed nations, from Japan to Italy to Russia, don’t have enough young people, U.S. population trends are relatively benign thanks to immigration and a stable birth rate.

Yet the government seems unable to do its job. The shutdown can be blamed on the reckless, irresponsible miscalculations of congressional Republicans. But the shutdown is only the most extreme example of government’s failure to solve solvable problems: to fix Social Security, pass a budget, reform immigration laws. What gives?

One theory is bad luck: Some analysts suggest that John Boehner, Harry Reid and Barack Obama are a collection of unusually weak leaders, or leaders especially ill-matched in temperament.

A variation on that theme holds that leaders of the previous generation were the aberration: Men (mostly) whose world views were formed in World War II and the Cold War understood the nature of existential threats and were willing to put aside partisan interest for the nation’s good. Today’s partisanship is just a return to normal.

But maybe even larger trends are at work. Here are a few possible culprits:

Slow growth and inequality. As my colleague Robert Samuelson recently wrote, after World War II Americans became accustomed to 3 percent annual growth, which allowed for a cheerful spreading of the wealth. Now 2 percent may be the new normal, in part because the United States, though its population is younger than that of many countries, still will have more retirees per active worker than in the past.

The growth we do manage is being shared less equally, thanks largely to technology and globalization. The possible result: nastier politics as classes and generations fight over a slower-growing pie.

The great fracturing. Then-Sen. Barack Obama electrified the nation in 2004 with his Democratic convention speech insisting there was no Red America or Blue America. Since then, the divisions have only become more marked. From guns to gay marriage to Obamacare, we seem to live in two separate countries whose inhabitants lack the empathy or even the language to understand each other.

As Americans increasingly choose to live among those with whom they agree politically, in what author Bill Bishop called “the big sort,” technology and other factors loosen the ties that bound us into one nation. Other than the occasional, and fleeting, YouTube video, there is no cable television channel or Internet site that we experience in common. Political parties that transcended region have been purged of dissenters and overshadowed by single-focus interest groups.

Immigration and the end of a white majority. “The Mexican migration, and the similarly large migration of others from the rest of Latin America, has in just one generation reshaped the nation,” Michael Barone recently wrote. In 1970 there were fewer than 1 million Mexican-born people in the country; today they number more than 12 million, and with their children comprise about 10 percent of the population.

Meanwhile, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities — if that’s still the right word — make up about half of the under-5 population. By 2043, whites will no longer be in the majority. The country seems to have handled the surge in immigration more peaceably than it greeted past waves of newcomers. But the shifts may be causing political shockwaves whose connections to the demographic changes aren’t immediately obvious.

Inadequate political institutions. There’s the affront posed to the principle of one man, one vote by the U.S. Senate, where 600,000 Wyoming residents have as much say as 38 million Californians. In an increasingly self-serving redistricting process, politicians choose their voters instead of the other way around and insulate themselves from challenges by all but the extremes. The frantic money chase drives good people out of politics.

The contrast between the country’s relative advantages and its Washington dysfunction is frustrating, but maybe that, too, is part of the problem: In an apparently benign environment, when foreign enemies again seem distant and unthreatening, nothing scares the politicians toward compromise. They manufacture one ginned-up crisis after another, but the deadlines fail to provide the hoped-for jolt toward progress — even when, as now, millions of blameless Americans suffer for politicians’ failings.

Will it take a crisis not of their creating to change the dynamic? Let’s hope not.

Read more from Fred Hiatt’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fred-hiatt-the-shutdown-of-good-governance/2013/10/06/329f9c1a-2d0b-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and MIKE McINTIRE, New York Times, October 5, 2013

WASHINGTON — Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.

It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.

“We felt very strongly at the start of this year that the House needed to use the power of the purse,” said one coalition member, Michael A. Needham, who runs Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation. “At least at Heritage Action, we felt very strongly from the start that this was a fight that we were going to pick.”

Last week the country witnessed the fallout from that strategy: a standoff that has shuttered much of the federal bureaucracy and unsettled the nation.

To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known.

With polls showing Americans deeply divided over the law, conservatives believe that the public is behind them. Although the law’s opponents say that shutting down the government was not their objective, the activists anticipated that a shutdown could occur — and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise.

A defunding “tool kit” created in early September included talking points for the question, “What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?” The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: “We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.”

The current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.

The groups have also sought to pressure vulnerable Republican members of Congress with scorecards keeping track of their health care votes; have burned faux “Obamacare cards” on college campuses; and have distributed scripts for phone calls to Congressional offices, sample letters to editors and Twitter and Facebook offerings for followers to present as their own.

One sample Twitter offering — “Obamacare is a train wreck” — is a common refrain for Speaker John A. Boehner.

As the defunding movement picked up steam among outside advocates, Republicans who sounded tepid became targets. The Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee dedicated to “electing true conservatives,” ran radio advertisements against three Republican incumbents.

Heritage Action ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who had failed to sign a letter by a North Carolina freshman, Representative Mark Meadows, urging Mr. Boehner to take up the defunding cause.

“They’ve been hugely influential,” said David Wasserman, who tracks House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “When else in our history has a freshman member of Congress from North Carolina been able to round up a gang of 80 that’s essentially ground the government to a halt?”

On Capitol Hill, the advocates found willing partners in Tea Party conservatives, who have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if they do not get their way on spending issues. This time they said they were so alarmed by the health law that they were willing to risk a shutdown over it. (“This is exactly what the public wants,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, said on the eve of the shutdown.)

Despite Mrs. Bachmann’s comments, not all of the groups have been on board with the defunding campaign. Some, like the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity, which spent $5.5 million on health care television advertisements over the past three months, are more focused on sowing public doubts about the law. But all have a common goal, which is to cripple a measure that Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and leader of the defunding effort, has likened to a horror movie.

“We view this as a long-term effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. He said his group expected to spend “tens of millions” of dollars on a “multifront effort” that includes working to prevent states from expanding Medicaid under the law. The group’s goal is not to defund the law.

“We want to see this law repealed,” Mr. Phillips said.

A Familiar Tactic

The crowd was raucous at the Hilton Anatole, just north of downtown Dallas, when Mr. Needham’s group, Heritage Action, arrived on a Tuesday in August for the second stop on a nine-city “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour.” Nearly 1,000 people turned out to hear two stars of the Tea Party movement: Mr. Cruz, and Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator who runs the Heritage Foundation.

“You’re here because now is the single best time we have to defund Obamacare,” declared Mr. Cruz, who would go on to rail against the law on the Senate floor in September with a monologue that ran for 21 hours. “This is a fight we can win.”

Although Mr. Cruz is new to the Senate, the tactic of defunding in Washington is not. For years, Congress has banned the use of certain federal money to pay for abortions, except in the case of incest and rape, by attaching the so-called Hyde Amendment to spending bills.

After the health law passed in 2010, Todd Tiahrt, then a Republican congressman from Kansas, proposed defunding bits and pieces of it. He said he spoke to Mr. Boehner’s staff about the idea while the Supreme Court, which upheld the central provision, was weighing the law’s constitutionality.

“There just wasn’t the appetite for it at the time,” Mr. Tiahrt said in an interview. “They thought, we don’t need to worry about it because the Supreme Court will strike it down.”

But the idea of using the appropriations process to defund an entire federal program, particularly one as far-reaching as the health care overhaul, raised the stakes considerably. In an interview, Mr. DeMint, who left the Senate to join the Heritage Foundation in January, said he had been thinking about it since the law’s passage, in part because Republican leaders were not more aggressive.

“They’ve been through a series of C.R.s and debt limits,” Mr. DeMint said, referring to continuing resolutions on spending, “and all the time there was discussion of ‘O.K., we’re not going to fight the Obamacare fight, we’ll do it next time.’ The conservatives who ran in 2010 promising to repeal it kept hearing, ‘This is not the right time to fight this battle.’ ”

Mr. DeMint is hardly alone in his distaste for the health law, or his willingness to do something about it. In the three years since Mr. Obama signed the health measure, Tea Party-inspired groups have mobilized, aided by a financing network that continues to grow, both in its complexity and the sheer amount of money that flows through it.

A review of tax records, campaign finance reports and corporate filings shows that hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised and spent since 2012 by organizations, many of them loosely connected, leading opposition to the measure.

One of the biggest sources of conservative money is Freedom Partners, a tax-exempt “business league” that claims more than 200 members, each of whom pays at least $100,000 in dues. The group’s board is headed by a longtime executive of Koch Industries, the conglomerate run by the Koch brothers, who were among the original financiers of the Tea Party movement. The Kochs declined to comment.

While Freedom Partners has financed organizations that are pushing to defund the law, like Heritage Action and Tea Party Patriots, Freedom Partners has not advocated that. A spokesman for the group, James Davis, said it was more focused on “educating Americans around the country on the negative impacts of Obamacare.”

The largest recipient of Freedom Partners cash — about $115 million — was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, according to the groups’ latest tax filings. Run by a political consultant with ties to the Kochs and listing an Arizona post office box for its address, the center appears to be little more than a clearinghouse for donations to still more groups, including American Commitment and the 60 Plus Association, both ardent foes of the health care law.

American Commitment and 60 Plus were among a handful of groups calling themselves the “Repeal Coalition” that sent a letter in August urging Republican leaders in the House and the Senate to insist “at a minimum” in a one-year delay of carrying out the health care law as part of any budget deal. Another group, the Conservative 50 Plus Alliance, delivered a defunding petition with 68,700 signatures to the Senate.

In the fight to shape public opinion, conservatives face well-organized liberal foes. Enroll America, a nonprofit group allied with the Obama White House, is waging a campaign to persuade millions of the uninsured to buy coverage. The law’s supporters are also getting huge assistance from the insurance industry, which is expected to spend $1 billion on advertising to help sell its plans on the exchanges.

“It is David versus Goliath,” said Mr. Phillips of Americans for Prosperity.

But conservatives are finding that with relatively small advertising buys, they can make a splash. Generation Opportunity, the youth-oriented outfit behind the “Creepy Uncle Sam” ads, is spending $750,000 on that effort, aimed at dissuading young people — a cohort critical to the success of the health care overhaul — from signing up for insurance under the new law.

The group receives substantial backing from Freedom Partners and appears ready to expand. Recently, Generation Opportunity moved into spacious new offices in Arlington, Va., where exposed ductwork, Ikea chairs and a Ping-Pong table give off the feel of a Silicon Valley start-up.

Its executive director, Evan Feinberg, a 29-year-old former Capitol Hill aide and onetime instructor for a leadership institute founded by Charles Koch, said there would be more Uncle Sam ads, coupled with college campus visits, this fall. Two other groups, FreedomWorks, with its “Burn Your Obamacare Card” protests, and Young Americans for Liberty, are also running campus events.

“A lot of folks have asked us, ‘Are we trying to sabotage the law?’ ” Mr. Feinberg said in an interview last week. His answer echoes the Freedom Partners philosophy: “Our goal is to educate and empower young people.”

Critical Timing

But many on the Republican right wanted to do more.

Mr. Meese’s low-profile coalition, the Conservative Action Project, which seeks to find common ground among leaders of an array of fiscally and socially conservative groups, was looking ahead to last Tuesday, when the new online health insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, were set to open. If the law took full effect as planned, many conservatives feared, it would be nearly impossible to repeal — even if a Republican president were elected in 2016.

“I think people realized that with the imminent beginning of Obamacare, that this was a critical time to make every effort to stop something,” Mr. Meese said in an interview. (He has since stepped down as the coalition’s chairman and has been succeeded by David McIntosh, a former congressman from Indiana.)

The defunding idea, Mr. Meese said, was “a logical strategy.” The idea drew broad support. Fiscal conservatives like Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth, signed on to the blueprint. So did social and religious conservatives, like the Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition.

The document set a target date: March 27, when a continuing resolution allowing the government to function was to expire. Its message was direct: “Conservatives should not approve a C.R. unless it defunds Obamacare.”

But the March date came and went without a defunding struggle. In the Senate, Mr. Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, talked up the defunding idea, but it went nowhere in the Democratic-controlled chamber. In the House, Mr. Boehner wanted to concentrate instead on locking in the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, and Tea Party lawmakers followed his lead. Outside advocates were unhappy but held their fire.

“We didn’t cause any trouble,” Mr. Chocola said.

Yet by summer, with an August recess looming and another temporary spending bill expiring at the end of September, the groups were done waiting.

“I remember talking to reporters at the end of July, and they said, ‘This didn’t go anywhere,’ ” Mr. Needham recalled. “What all of us felt at the time was, this was never going to be a strategy that was going to win inside the Beltway. It was going to be a strategy where, during August, people would go home and hear from their constituents, saying: ‘You pledged to do everything you could to stop Obamacare. Will you defund it?’ ”

Heritage Action, which has trained 6,000 people it calls sentinels around the country, sent them to open meetings and other events to confront their elected representatives. Its “Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour,” which began in Fayetteville, Ark., on Aug. 19 and ended 10 days later in Wilmington, Del., drew hundreds at every stop.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, led by Mr. DeMint when he was in the Senate, put up a Web site in July called dontfundobamacare.com and ran television ads featuring Mr. Cruz and Mr. Lee urging people to tell their representatives not to fund the law.

When Senator Richard M. Burr, a North Carolina Republican, told a reporter that defunding the law was “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” the fund bought a radio ad to attack him. Two other Republican senators up for re-election in 2014, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, were also targeted. Both face Tea Party challengers.

In Washington, Tea Party Patriots, which created the defunding tool kit, set up a Web site, exemptamerica.com, to promote a rally last month showcasing many of the Republicans in Congress whom Democrats — and a number of fellow Republicans — say are most responsible for the shutdown.

While conservatives believe that the public will back them on defunding, a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority — 57 percent — disapproves of cutting off funding as a way to stop the law.

Last week, with the health care exchanges open for business and a number of prominent Republicans complaining that the “Defund Obamacare” strategy was politically damaging and pointless, Mr. Needham of Heritage Action said he felt good about what the groups had accomplished.

“It really was a groundswell,” he said, “that changed Washington from the utside in.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/us/a-federal-budget-crisis-months-in-the-planning.html?_r=2&

Marlin Stutzman and post-policy nihilism

By Steve Benen, maddowblog.msnbc.com, October 3, 2013 -

Excerpt

…the last time Republicans shut down the federal government…then-Speaker Newt Gingrich…admitted in November 1995 that he closed the government in part because President Clinton hurt his feelings on Air Force One…We don’t yet know if a similar moment will come to define this Republican shutdown, but I’d like to nominate this gem as an early contender. “We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”…congressional Republicans are now defined by a post-policy nihilism…Republicans are being driven by a mindless radicalism. There’s no meaningful policy goal in mind; there’s no substantive motivation; there isn’t even a strategic end goal. There’s just a primal instinct and a right-wing id causing a national crisis.

Full text

For many of us, to remember the last time Republicans shut down the federal government is to think of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Specifically, the far-right Georgian admitted in November 1995 that he closed the government in part because President Clinton hurt his feelings on Air Force One — the president didn’t chat with Gingrich during an overseas flight and then made the Speaker exit at the rear of the plane.

It was a moment that captured the entire fiasco quite beautifully. A petulant, out-of-control Republican leader shut down the government largely to spite the president who made him feel bad.

We don’t yet know if a similar moment will come to define this Republican shutdown, but I’d like to nominate this gem as an early contender.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Go ahead, Republicans, tell us another one about how the shutdown is Democrats’ fault.

I’ve long argued that congressional Republicans are now defined by a post-policy nihilism, but even I’m surprised an elected GOP member of Congress would say this out loud, on purpose, and on the record.

The quote is just … perfect. “We’re not going to be disrespected” helps capture the extent to which Republican lawmakers are acting like a street gang, hurting the country deliberately out of some twisted sense of self-serving pride. “We have to get something out of this” reinforces the way in which GOP officials are holding the country hostage, expecting a ransom to be paid.

And “I don’t know what that even is” makes clear that Republicans are being driven by a mindless radicalism. There’s no meaningful policy goal in mind; there’s no substantive motivation; there isn’t even a strategic end goal. There’s just a primal instinct and a right-wing id causing a national crisis.

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2013/10/03/20801266-marlin-stutzman-and-post-policy-nihilism

Morals of extremist government shutdown – excerpts

Excerpts with links to full text

Our Democracy Is at Stake  by THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, New York Times, October 1, 2013 – This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.…structural changes in money, media and redistricting…are superempowering small political movements to act in extreme ways without consequences and thereby stymie majority rule. If democracy means anything, it means that, if you are outvoted, you accept the results and prepare for the next election. Republicans are refusing to do that. It shows contempt for the democratic process. President Obama is not defending health care. He’s defending the health of our democracy. Every American who cherishes that should stand with him.

Why the Government Shutdown Is Unbiblical by Jim Wallis, Sojourners, posted on Huffingtonpost.com, Oct 3, 2013 – the poorest and most vulnerable who are always hurt the most in a crisis like thisthat is our job in politics — to talk about what happens to themThe biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good.That vision of “common good” is what we have lost, and there is nothing more important in our public life than to find it againTo be opposed to government per se, especially when that opposition serves the ultimate power of other wealthy and powerful interests, is simply not a biblical position. Transparency, accountability, and service are the ethics of good government. “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” is still a good measure and goal of civil authority…

Conservatives With a Cause: ‘We’re Right’ By ASHLEY PARKER, New York Times,  September 30, 2013 – …what gives House Republicans the idea that they can triumph in their push to repeal, or at least delay, the Affordable Care Act when so many veteran voices in their party see it as an unwinnable fight? “Because we’re right, simply because we’re right,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa…Representative Steve Pearce, Republican of New Mexico, described the task facing his colleagues as perhaps quixotic, but ideologically critical…

Racism and Cruelty Drive GOP Health Care Agenda By Robert Scheer, Truthdig, October 13, 2013 Before he was disgraced into resigning his presidency over the Watergate burglary scandal, Richard Nixon had successfully engineered an even more odious plot known as his Southern Strategy. The trick was devilishly simple: Appeal to the persistent racist inclination of Southern whites by abandoning the Republican Party’s historic association with civil rights and demonizing the black victims of the South’s history of segregation. That same divisive strategy is at work in the Republican rejection of the Affordable Care Act. GOP governors are largely in control of the 26 states, including all but Arkansas in the South, that have refused to implement the act’s provision for an expansion of Medicaid to cover the millions of American working poor who earn too much to qualify for the program now. A New York Times analysis of census data concludes that as a result of the Republican governors’ resistance, “A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help. …”Why anyone who claims to be pro-life would want to deny health care to single mothers is an enduring mystery in the morally mischievous ethos of the Republican Party. But the exclusion of a working poor population that skews disproportionately black in the South is simply a continuation of the divide-and-conquer politics that have informed Republican strategy since Nixon. (This is the full text)

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