THE BLOG
10/07/2013 10:06 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Contempt for President Obama Is Behind the Shutdown

The government shutdown is not driven by a Republican desire to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Nor is it about trying to reign in government spending or limit the national debt. It is, at its core, the latest act in an effort by the far right of the Republican Party to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama. The ACA is not anathema to the right wing of the Republican Party because it will drive millions of new customers to insurance companies, will force insurers to cover people they might otherwise not want to cover, or even because of the mandate that requires all people who are uninsured to buy insurance. Parenthetically, this last issue is a particularly absurd issue for the Republicans to be so concerned about because for decades millions of young healthy employed people have been forced, as terms of their employment, to have their paychecks docked so that they can be part of a larger health insurance pool. The ACA is anathema to the right wing because it is the signature legislative accomplishment of a president they hate and who they think is an impostor out to destroy the country.

President Obama is, by any rational measure, as legitimate a president as anybody who has occupied that position. He was elected twice in elections that were clearly free and fair, although not particularly close, as Obama trounced both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. Obama has just as clearly had to confront challenges to his legitimacy that are broader and more enduring than that of any of his predecessors. There is always an extremist fringe challenging the legitimacy of any president, and creating odd conspiracy theories about that president, but for President Obama this has been much more than an extremist fringe; and, more disturbingly, those questioning Obama have enjoyed the tacit support of much of the wing of the Republican Party that seeks to be more respectable and mainstream.

The right wingers who have taken over the Republican Party, and forced the shutdown, have more or less conceded they have no sense of what they are trying to get out of this ill-advised gambit, as evidenced by statements like those of Congressman Marlin Stutzman (R-IND). "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

Republican decisions to do things like call for back pay for furloughed workers once they shutdown are clear indications that those shutting down the government are either completely unaware of what it is they are doing or that they don't really believe in the consequences of their actions. Last week the Republicans,in what can perhaps best be described as the political equivalent of the child who kills both his parents and then asks the court to have mercy on him because he is an orphan, sought to get publicity by attacking the very government agencies they had forced to shutdown. The most extreme case of this was when a Republican congressman scolded a park ranger over the closing of the World War II memorial.

If the shutdown were grounded in actual policy goals rather than abstract contempt for a recently reelected president, those behind the shutdown would have a strategy, consistent policy views or at the very least some kind of endgame. The Tea Partiers who have taken over the Republican Party have none of these things. They just want to scream loudly and long enough so that President Obama will go away. Fortunately, for the rest of us, that is not how democracy works.

The Republican contempt for President Obama is unfortunate and has led that party to a series of strategic blunders which have damaged their party, and more seriously, the country. However, the most dangerous aspect of this contempt is that it represents a view of the American people, and their role in democracy, that is at best disrespectful and at worst fundamentally undemocratic. Manipulating and abusing the institutions and mores that undergird our democratic system is not something that should be done lightly, but the Republicans are doing it for reasons that are simply political, not substantive and certainly not principled. Obama's reelection and the decision by the Supreme Court, led by that noted radical Justice John Roberts, to uphold the ACA have made it clear that the ACA is legal and enjoys sufficient political support. Those shutting down the government, allegedly over that issue, have made it clear they don't care what the American people think because in their hearts, for whatever inexplicable reason, the need to destroy President Obama trumps everything.

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