In November, 1995, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, carried out his threat to shut down the government.
Then he unwisely admitted that he did so because President Bill Clinton had put him in the back of Air Force One during a recent trip to Israel.
The shutdown proved a disaster for Republicans. Clinton was handily re-elected in 1996 and Gingrich suddenly resigned from Congress in 1998.
Still, the Republicans continued their policy of my-way-or-else.
In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.
During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made this threat:
His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.
Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise–and finally reached one.
Three months later–on July 9–Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met.
President Obama had offered to make historic cuts in the federal government and the social safety net–on which millions of Americans depend for their most basic needs.
But House Speaker John Boehner rejected that offer. He could not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.
As the calendar moved ever closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”
One senior Republican said talks would go right up to–and maybe beyond–the brink of default.
“I think we’ll be here in August,” said Republican Representative Pete Sessions, of Texas. “We are not going to leave town until a proper deal gets done.”
President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members:
- The “Grand Bargain” choice—favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
- A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
- The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
And the Republican response?
Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:“Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”
Noted political analyst Chris Matthews summed up the sheer criminality of what happened within the House of Representatives.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on July 28–five days before Congress reached its August 2 deadline to raise the debt-ceiling–Matthews noted:
“The first people to bow to the demands of those threatening to blow up the economy were the Republicans in the House, the leaders. The leaders did what the followers told them to do: meet the demands, hold up the country to get their way.
“Those followers didn’t win the Senate, or the Presidency, just the House.
“But by using the House they were able to hold up the entire United States government. They threatened to blow things up economically and it worked.
“They said they were willing to do that–just to get their way–not by persuasion, not by politics, not by democratic government, but by threatening the destruction of the country’s finances.
“Right. So what’s next? The power grid? Will they next time threaten to close down the country’s electricity and communications systems?”
With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced three choices:
- Prosecute Republican extortionists under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Oganizations Act;
- Seek to rally the American people against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation;
- Cave in to Republican demands.
Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.
A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama is easily one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.
But for all this, he failed–from the onset of his Presidency–to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science.
In his classic work on politics, The Prince, Machiavelli warns:
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.
The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved….
Men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.
Obama has failed to heed this advice. And, predictably, his sworn enemies–which is what Republicans consider themselves to be–have felt free to demonize and obstruct him at every turn.