To hear many political pundits tell it, the shutdown of the Federal Government is the result of “political dysfunction,” as if everybody in Congress were tripping on LSD.
This is not only untrue but misleading.
The truth is that the shutdown is the result of yet another ruthless attempt by Right-wing Republicans to obtain absolute power.
When they can obtain it at the ballot box, they rule as though by divine right. When they can’t obtain it at election time, they try to obtain it through intimidation.
Thus, in 1992 and 1996, their Presidential candidates–President George H.W. Bush and Senator Bob Dole, respectively–couldn’t defeat Bill Clinton.
So Republicans mounted an inquisition into a failed land deal that occurred before Clinton was first elected President. This investigation spanned the length of the Clinton Presidency and produced no evidence or indictments of criminal activity.
It did, however, turn up the salacious news that Clinton had actually enjoyed several instances of oral sex courtesy of a libidinous White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
Unable to defeat Clinton at election time, and unable to find any actual criminal wrongdoing on his part, Right-wing Republicans tried to drive him out of office by impeachment.
The effort failed, and Clinton stayed in the White House until his term expired in 2001.
Then, as now, it was members of the House of Representatives who were the driving force.
Now, fast forward to the present: Republicans have made it their mission to deprive millions of Americans of health care. They have voted 42 times to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
And they have made its elimination the focus of their threats to shut down the government unless they get their way.
Yet, consider this: Whether they like it or not, the Affordable Care Act is now a law that was legally passed by both houses of Congress. It has been certified as Constitutional by no less than a Republican Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
Under our system of government, that’s as legal as it gets.
But Republicans don’t care about legality when they’re pursuing absolute power over the lives of their fellow Americans.
Thus, they have carried out their threat to shut down the Federal Government since they couldn’t coerce Senate Democrats into de-funding “Obamacare.”
As a result:
- More than 800,000 federal workers have been sent home without pay;
- National parks and monuments have been closed;
- Some programs have been temporarily crippled–such as WIC, which provides nutritional food to poor mothers with infants; and
- Some members of “essential services” are still required to be on duty–such as the military and Federal law enforcement agencies–but without receiving paychecks.
Of course, this disgrace didn’t have to happen.
President Obama didn’t have to cave in to the latest Republican extortion demands to prevent such a shutdown.
He could have ordered his Attorney General, Eric Holder, to launch an FBI invesdtigation into terroristic threats made by Right-wingers to shut down the government.
Both the 1970 Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and the USA Patriot Act provide remedies for punishing the sort of behavior engaged in by House Republicans.
RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion.
Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”
And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.
In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:
“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
Demanding that the President de-fund Obamacare or face a potentially disastrous government shutdown clearly falls within the legal definition of “activities…intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.”
If the FBI had determined that Federal laws against extortion and terrorism had been broken, the Justice Department could have convened criminal grand juries to indict those Republicans found as violators.
President Obama should have authorized this investigation as soon as Republicans started making terroristic threats. Thus, he would have served notice on his sworn enemies that he was no one to take lightly.
Knowing that they might well face indictment and prosecution for engaging in domestic terrorism would have frightened many Republicans into backing away from such behavior.
Those who persisted would have found themselves fighting desperately to stay out of prison. They would have had to pay huge fees to top-flight criminal attorneys.
They would have lived with, first, the threat of indictments hanging over their heads, and, once those indictments were returned, with the threat of conviction and imprisonment.
As a result, they would not have had time to make destroying the Presidency of Barack Obama their Number One priority.
But Obama forfeited all those advantages when he accused Republicans of “blackmail” and then refused to legally punish them for it.