And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever.
–Plutarch, Life of Alexander
In 1994, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, shut down the Federal Government.
Officially, the reason was a budget impasse with President Bill Clinton. Unofficially–and in reality–the reason was altogether different.
Clinton had forced him to sit in the back of Air Force One on a trip to Israel for the funeral of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabinl.
“This is petty,” Gingrich confessed to startled reporters. “I’m going to say up front it’s petty, But I think it’s human.
“When you land at Andrews [Air Force Base, in Washington, D.C.] and you’ve been on the plane for 25 hours and nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off by the back ramp….
“You just wonder, where is their sense of manners, where is their sense of courtesy?”
Gingrich’s childish verbal tirade was a public relations disaster for the Republicans. “Cry Baby,” screamed the New York Daily News, next to a picture of Gingrich in a diaper.
When House Democrats brought a poster-sized image of the cartoon onto the floor, the Republican majority forced them to remove it.
But the damage was done, and Republicans paid a fearful price for the shutdown and Gingrich’s candor about the reason for it.
Fast forward 19 years later, and, once again, the public–and, most especially, federal employees–faced the hardships of another Republican-led government shutdown.
The official reason given by Republicans was: They wanted to save the country from the dangers of providing healthcare insurance to all Americans, not simply the wealthiest 1%.
To hear Republicans tell it, Obamacare–actually, the Affordable Care Act–would “destroy the medical system as we know it.”
The Act aims to:
Increase the quality and affordability of health insurance;
Lower the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage;
Reduce the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government;
- Forbid insurance companies the right to deny coverage for “pre-existing conditions”; and
- Require employers with more than 50 employees to offer health insurance to their fulltime workers–or pay a large penalty.
Republicans also claimed that it would bankrupt the country–although the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA would lower future deficits and Medicare spending.
After passing the House and Senate, the ACA was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010.
On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court–whose Chief Justice, John Roberts, is a Republican–upheld the constitutionality of the ACA,
Yet House Republicans continued searching for a way to stop the law from taking effect. By September, 2013, they had voted 42 times to repeal “Obamacare.”
But their efforts achieved nothing, since the Democratic-led Senate refused to go along with such legislation.
Finally, unable to legally overturn the Act or to legislatively repeal it, House Republicans fell back on something much simpler.
Threats and fear.
Threats–of voting to shut down salaries paid to most Federal employees.
Most employees, because they themselves would continue to draw hefty salaries while they were denying them to FBI agents, air traffic controllers and members of the military, among others.
And fear–that would be generated throughout the Federal government, the United States and America’s international allies.
It was the my-way-or-else “negotiating” style of Adolf Hitler: Do-as-I-say-or-I-will-destroy-you.
When Obama and Senate Democrats refused to knuckle under to yet another Republican extortion effort, House Republicans made good on their threat.
They shut down the government.
Republicans claimed that Obama and Senate Democrats were the ones who refused to see reason and negotiate.
By “negotiate,” they meant: Agree to Republican demands to de-fund “Obamacare.”
But then the unthinkable happened: A Republican gave away the real reason for the shutdown.
“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”
With Newt Gingrich, the real reason for the government shutdown was his petty ego.
A subsidiary reason was to bully President Clinton into gutting Republican-despised Federal programs to help the poor and middle-class.
Nineteen years later, Republicans–as admitted by Martlin Stutzman–were out to get “respect.”
And they were out to get it the same way a thuggish gang leader gets it: By demanding: “Do what I say or I’ll kill you.”
At the end of World War II, Americans tried to cleanse West Germany of its former Nazi leaders and their supporters.
Such thuggishness will continue unless, somehow, Americans cleanse their own government of those who “negotiate” Nazi-Republican style.