Wise people have always told us of the perils of hatred: that it is all-consuming, like a wolf inside the hater, gnawing away from the interior. "Wrath," says Shakespeare, makes one "deaf."
For decades, Republicans have preached hatred -- of government, of bureaucrats, of the indigent as "moochers" (they save their love for the wealthy), and now hatred of President Barack Obama and his signature health care law. The Tea Party, while more radical than mainstream Republicans, shares with them the party's signature motive force: hatred.
Now, in successfully shutting down the hated government again, and increasingly desperate in their fight against raising the debt ceiling, Republicans have run to ground -- and to their lowest approval rating ever -- consumed by the hatred they have assiduously stoked. Even if there is a last-minute agreement before we default on Oct. 17, Republican hatred remains. Analyzed thus, we see its major symptoms:
Lapses in short-term memory. In railing at President Obama's "out-of-control" spending, Republicans conveniently forget it was his predecessor, George W. Bush, who in waging war in Iraq and granting tax cuts to the rich -- so much superfluous waste! -- took the country from budget surplus (inherited from an equally hated Bill Clinton) to the budget deficit, and broken economy, he foisted on Mr. Obama. Given this memory lapse, Republicans thus cannot grasp why Mr. Obama had to spend stimulus funds to repair said broken economy. The Tea Party, the operatic haters, got their start railing at Mr. Obama for his proposed health care plan and for bailing out Wall Street in the '08 financial collapse -- which bailout was promulgated by Mr. Bush with TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). Hatred distorts history.
Denial of reality. Republicans fail to take onboard that the Affordable Care Act, the hated "Obamacare," is the law of the land, whose constitutionality has been ratified by a conservative-dominated Supreme Court. Unable to acknowledge evidence that Obamacare is actually bringing down health care costs (also here), Republicans continue to claim Obamacare will "ruin the economy." No, Republicans: W. did that (see above).
Betrayal of principles. Republicans have long claimed the mantle of "fiscal responsibility," as contrasted with spendthrift Democrats, and to be the champion of business, big and small. But hatred of all things Obama has driven Republicans to do the heretofore unthinkable: to threaten default on the national debt for the first time in our history, to renege on paying for goods and services already consumed and already approved by Congress. Such threat is the very antithesis of fiscal responsibility and the very definition of a deadbeat. Republicans also talk of how markets need "certainty." So how does threatening to default on our good name and credit enhance certainty? As proof that the GOP has sullied its business credentials, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, usually the party's stalwart supporter, now sends a "multi-industry coalition letter" to Congressional Republicans, appealing to them to settle with Mr. Obama to avert a ruinous default. Hatred erases core beliefs.
Susceptibility to delusion. Republicans lately have downplayed the damage to the economy, ours and the world's, and to America's good name that a default on our national debt would inflict, asserting that, after the smoke clears, default would not be that bad, that we would survive. Where to start? Maybe with the Constitution (which Republicans claim to revere), the Golden Rule, and a globe? How do you deal with someone who plays with fire? Hatred demolishes all danger, value, and consequence. If Republicans take us over the cliff, they must also take responsibility -- another creedal belief -- for the ruin they in their heedlessness will cause here and across the world. And this, too: They can be cited for treason.
Fixation on the hated object -- to the distortion of everything else. Barack Hussein Obama, object of Republican hatred and object of their plotting since the day of his first Inauguration, really and truly is the president of the United States of America -- elected, twice over, by the majority of American voters. Yet Republicans continue to treat Mr. Obama as if he were a usurper. Hatred cannot recognize authority other than its own.
On this point, shall we discuss how Republican hatred masks -- barely -- a racist rage at the man of mixed race now in charge of the White House? What else is behind all the insistence on "taking back the country"?
And, further, shall we discuss how this hatred belies the Christian teachings of love and charity, teachings to which Republicans by and large profess belief?
What is to be done? Republican hatred won't suddenly evaporate; in fact, it may amp up even more in 2014 and 2016. Ultimately, Republicans will have to break their own collective fever dream, unpack their internal contradictions of very long standing. It will take time.
But right now, action -- strong executive action -- is required, with the debt ceiling just days away and the Republicans still recalcitrant. To demonstrate fullest faith in America's full faith and credit, to act with true fiscal responsibility, to restore some trust in government, and (no small thing) to allow Main Street and the world to exhale from the prolonged anxiety over a paralyzed Washington, President Obama should take the legal route: invoke the 14th Amendment, Section 4, which declares that "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law... shall not be questioned" (also here).
While the White House claims to have questions about the legality of the 14th Amendment option, that may be a ploy to keep Republicans negotiating. The president is the supreme defender of the Constitution; as such, he should make use of all powers that flow to his hand from this sacred document. Besides, apart from stabilizing a wildly unsettled situation, arguing the legality of this action will give Republicans something constructive to do. Let them sue! Litigation is the American way.
In the medium term, in the absence of a rational Republican party, Democrats and Mr. Obama should seize on the fiscal objectives fraudulently touted by the GOP (and, frankly, not always top priority for Democrats) -- tax reform, notably. They should also highlight the good news: that federal spending and the deficit are actually decreasing under Mr. Obama, according to the Congressional Budget Office (also here). Better messaging prevents manipulation by a hateful opponent.
In the long term, Democrats must win the 2014 midterms and take back the House. Many Democrats have turned cynical in this long shutdown-default agony, vowing to retreat from politics. But with Democrats in control of the White House, Senate, and House, rationality might return to Washington. Think Supreme Court.
Citing Republicans for hatred may sound rude and harsh, but is it wrong, really? Let's hope the Republicans can rehabilitate themselves, quit the hatred. Our two-party system needs both parties to be robust.
Shakespeare counsels the importance of dealing with what is -- to be able to "tell a hawk from a handsaw." Equally important is recognizing when hatred, and not fair play, is the motive force in your opponent. Hatred: It's no way to run a party -- and it definitely can ruin a nation.
Carla Seaquist's forthcoming book is titled "Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality." Her book "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character" came out in 2009. Also a playwright, she published "Two Plays of Life and Death," which includes "Who Cares?: The Washington-Sarajevo Talks" and "Kate and Kafka," and is at work on a play titled "Prodigal."