Upon reading Saturday morning’s headline in the New York Times, “Budget Impasse Increasing Risk of U.S. Shutdown,” my wife remarked that it sounds like a game of Chicken. To this I responded, “That’s exactly right, except that the initial dare, with all of its bullying and taunting, has come from the Right. Also, to continue the analogy, the Democrats are driving dad’s nice, fairly new sedan, while the Republicans are driving a jalopy.” Of course, being a lot smarter and quicker than I, she got it: “You mean, the Republicans [and let me go to the source of this issue, the freshman Tea Partyers] don’t care if there’s a big crash!”
Now, I happen to have some familiarity with the game of Chicken. I was a bit of a “greaser” in high school in the mid-late 1950s and enjoyed working on cars. One weekend, for example, I and a friend dropped a 1957 Corvette engine into his old 1949 Ford coupe (creating a pretty dangerous, overpowered vehicle); I, myself, owned a sleek 1951 Mercury coupe, shiny in its ten coats of black lacquer (until I slid it sideways into a telephone pole). Usually, though, I was fairly cautious; I certainly never played Chicken and rarely participated in a drag race; my friend with the Ford was less inhibited, and as his companion I experienced a bit of the insanity of Chicken and half-mile drag races on a particular, slightly less-travelled section of suburban road in Westchester County.
Even then, I realized these activities were pretty stupid. But they were definitely a part of the coming-of-age activities in America’s automobile culture. To emphasize this point, who hasn’t enjoyed watching all those shenanigans that precede the tragic denouement of American Graffiti--all that hanging around the drive-ins, revving engines to show off, driving off somewhere to accomplish nothing in particular, holding the cops in disdain and taunting them?
Now, if we project these activities to the present, they provide an interesting analogy to the GOP and its Tea Party compatriots.
The showing off (engine revving) is like the new Republican majority making a big deal of reading the Constitution at the opening session in the House, even as they edited out certain parts of the Constitution that they didn’t like, and as two of their freshman members tried to raise their right hands and be sworn in while watching the ceremony on television. The Republicans also intended to have every new piece of legislation also cite the passage in the Constitution that authorizes the bill, a cumbersome and very likely unworkable demand that is purely symbolic (more engine-revving).
The driving around aimlessly and accomplishing nothing is like all the Republican talk about jobs being the first and most important piece of legislative activity, and yet spending all their time defunding NPR, going after Planned Parenthood, and attacking several other pet social issues which have no relationship to creating jobs and in fact are likely to put more people out of work. And let’s not forget that House Speaker Boehner said, if our policies cause job losses, “so be it.”
The disdain and the taunting of cops finds its analogy in the name calling almost every Republican directs toward the President of the United States. We recall those Sarah Palin rallies where she would whip up her base to the point of encouraging cries of “treason” and “kill him.” Among more recent examples, Senator Jim DeMint (R, SC) compared Obama to Hitler and Hugo Chavez and also said he was “the world’s best salesman of socialism;” John Boehner (R, OH) called Obama’s budget proposal “a new American socialist experiment;” Mike Pence (R, IN) as third ranking House Republican called Obama’s economic agenda “European style socialism.”
Now, “socialism” may well serve as a classic Republican four-letter-word, but Republican taunts against our President go much further. Almost daily, we hear Republicans tossing out terms like fascism, communism, naziism, which are not merely false, but totally contradictory. And then there are those insane references to Obama being a Muslim, wanting Sharia law in our country, and not being born in America and possibly being Kenyan.
These are utterances not even worthy of thoughtless freshmen. But they are part of an aimless, undisciplined and suicidal rejection of any bipartisanship and compromise that is being pushed by those conservative, freshman Tea Party representatives. They hold the steering wheel of the Republican jalopy, and when the Democratic drivers veer off course at the last moment to avoid destroying dad’s nice sedan (and their lives), there is a good chance that the Tea Partyers will veer the same way. They seem to want the crash more than the victory.
After all, there is no victory for the course they are driving. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has been arguing for several months, “slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake.” [NYTimes, March 25, 2011, most recently] The only sane strategy is to create jobs now; we will have time later to deal with the deficit. However, creating jobs is tough work and nowhere near as much fun as going after NPR or Planned Parenthood...or taking the party jalopy out for a game of Chicken.