"These are the kind of people who get eaten by bears."
- Text from a White House official about the GOP Default Deniers in Congress
The single greatest political strength of the modern Republican Party is their utter and complete lack of shame. They will say anything - literally anything, no matter how delusional or self-contradictory - if it gets them what they want, or at least deranges the political debate in America enough to keep the other side from getting what it wants.
I have written or spoken those words more than a thousand times in the last twenty years. It is a bedrock principle for me, one of the core underpinnings of my political world view. It has been true ever since the rise of Ronald Reagan and the injection of Supply-Side-Jesus evangelical Christianity into electoral politics and fundamental American economics. Every time I say it, and every time I write it, it is truer than it was the last time.
Case in point: on Tuesday afternoon, following President Obama's press conference regarding the shutdown, House Speaker John Boehner called a presser of his own to push the GOP's galactically shameless dialogue pivot about how the shutdown never had anything to do with defunding the Affordable Care Act, but has actually been about the debt and the deficit and the future of our children and stuff.
No, really, he said that, after Ted Cruz did that silly non-filibuster with the expressed purpose of defunding the law, and the first bunch of House-crafted versions of the CR sent to the Senate carried a rider defunding the law, and one could not swing one's dead cat by the tail in the first five days of the shutdown without striking a Tea Party lawmaker holding forth on the need to defund the law. Hell, a pack of these right-wing flatulators have been planning to use a government shutdown to wreck the Affordable Care Act since the day Mr. Obama was re-elected, and now, everyone knows it.
But no, said Boehner, it's not at all about Obamacare, and never was, because they will say anything, literally anything, if they think it is to their advantage.
Wait, it gets better: the following day, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Republican House Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the latest in a long line of conservative snake-oil salesmen peddling the Supply-Side-Jesus version of an economic plan. In this iteration, Mr. Ryan unctuously offered up the "Grand Bargain" once again - Chained CPI, means testing for Medicare, tax cuts for rich people and corporations, lather, rinse, repeat - as a means to end the impasse in Washington.
Nowhere in Mr. Ryan's op-ed, however, was to be found any mention of defunding the Affordable Care Act. This was, in all likelihood, a deliberate attempt to hew close to Speaker Boehner's preposterous pronouncements of the day before, and assist the Republican pivot away from the defund-Obamacare fight (which had already failed, and which was slightly less popular with the public than scabies) toward the new and nifty idea that the whole thing was about the debt all along.
Bad idea, brother. Conservatives all over the North American continent rose up in high dudgeon to denounce Mr. Ryan and his plan because it failed to include the defunding of the Affordable Care Act, because it's all about defunding Obamacare, except it's not, even though it is, but let's say it's not, because that polls better.
And while all this fuss and feathers was taking place, this: Senator Ted Cruz, who with each passing day appears more and more to be the likely product of a test-tube combination between a dented egg from Phyllis Schlafly and the weakest sperm Joe McCarthy ever produced, hates the very idea of socialized medicine. He did that little faux-filibuster to tell you about it. He has aired ten billion commercials about it. He has raised all kinds of money railing against it. He geeked up the House Tea Party caucus to fly face-first into a windshield because of it.
Except, when pressed by Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow on the issue of government-provided medical benefits for soldiers and veterans, Mr. Cruz was suddenly all for that version of the version of socialized medicine he has been very publicly hating for a long while now.
Their greatest strength, for years and years, has been their utter lack of shame. Their ability to say or do anything, and hypocrisy take the hindmost, has vaulted them into the position they hold today in American politics.
Except now, I believe at long, long last, the wheels are finally coming off this particular wagon.
Seventeen American military service members have died since the shutdown began, five of them on Sunday, and the shutdown has blocked their families from getting the benefits necessary to bring them home. The families of the fallen were on the verge of rioting, until the Fisher House Foundation in Bethesda pledged to offer grants to these families to cover homecoming expenses on the promise of recompense from the government once the shutdown ends.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki announced on Tuesday that if the shutdown continues, more than five million veterans will not get their benefits. His pronouncement came even as veterans benefits offices have been closing all across the country due to lack of funding because of the shutdown.
While millions of Americans, many of them poor or very close to it, have been screwed by the shutdown in both large ways and small, it is the cataclysmic affront to soldiers and veterans that is most damaging to the Republicans, and exposes in the most ruthlessly vivid way imaginable the shameless hypocrisy that has been their bread and butter for so many years.
The Republican Party, as every living creature on the planet from you and me and him and her all the way down to the amoeba in the mud puddle knows full well, has stapled itself to the idea of supporting the military. George W. Bush, by the end of his term, was doing press conferences surrounded by enough troops to topple half the governments on Earth. The House GOP, hot on the heels of shutting down the government last week, coughed up a bill to make sure members of the military would still get paid.
Yet the veterans are still getting screwed, the dead soldiers are getting doubly screwed, and all by the same pack of brazen liars who trumpet their love of the military after pouring body after body after body into the meat grinders of Iraq and Afghanistan. The amoeba in the mud puddle knows those were Republican wars, the soldiers and veterans know it for damn sure, and the American people know it, too...and now that this glad-handing pack of conservative hucksters with flags on their lapels and "Support The Troops" on their lips have gutted the basic services provided to those troops and veterans, a lot of scales are falling from a lot of eyes.
Veterans benefits offices are closing. Veteran's benefits are on the verge of ending, and until the Fisher House Foundation stepped in, the families of soldiers killed in the line of duty were well and truly screwed...but the posh, exclusive gyms for members of Congress that are funded with taxpayer dollars remain open, thanks to a word from Speaker Boehner, because they are "essential."
Their greatest strength, for so very long, has been their lack of shame. Now, with all this, that lack of shame is being run across the sky in bright lights, their poll numbers are cratering by truly unprecedented proportions, they are tripping over each other on national television and on the pages of major publications, and their flailing desperation grows with each passing day.
President Obama and the Democrats in Congress, to their great credit, have held the line. No "Grand Bargain," no deals of any kind. Pass a clean CR, raise the debt ceiling, period, end of file. Nothing, but nothing, is more important than standing firm on this, because hostage politics must end.
In the meantime, let their lack of shame do its brutal, corrosive work on the hull of the death ship that is the Republican Party. They are taking on water and listing badly. Let them sink, and let us finally bury Supply-Side Jesus and all his adherents under fathomless fathoms of cold, dark water.