Republicans are breaking.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the bedrock of traditional Republicanism, now says that it will get involved in Republican primaries by providing financial support to incumbent Republicans who vote to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. In other words, if some Republicans act responsibly and then have to face tea party challengers accusing them of being RINOs, the Chamber will have the back of those reasonable Republicans. It's a civil war within the GOP, folks.
That's how far off the deep end the tea party and right-wing House Republicans have gone. They've lost the Chamber of Commerce. Heads must be exploding in the Bush family compound. A bit more than a dozen House Republicans have already come out in favor of voting for a "clean continuing resolution (CR)" to reopen the government at current funding levels (remember, that means the sequester stays in place, already a Republican victory).
And make no mistake, this whole crisis over the government shutdown and, more importantly, the looming debt ceiling deadline, is 100 percent the fault of Republican extremists. Here's my simple metaphor for those who either don't get it or want to pretend that it's the fault of both sides, or gridlock, or whatever:
A married couple are arguing over how much to spend on the family's next car. One spouse says, "We should spend X." The other spouse says "No, we should spend Y, and if you don't agree, I won't make the mortgage payments -- or let you make them either -- until you give in."
Simple, clear, and an accurate reflection of where we're at. Because yes, America is a family. As I've written elsewhere, President Obama has used those words over and over and over again. We are in this boat together, and if one group of us wants to, it can capsize the whole thing.
On a more positive note, the concept of America as a family is at the core of progressive thinking. It's why we care that our fellow Americans may not have health insurance, and why we want to do something about it. The right-wing rejects this vision, which is exactly why they not only oppose a law that would provide millions with access to health coverage, but why they appear to be willing to default on our collective mortgage if they don't get their way on that law -- after losing an election in which that law was a defining issue. If they were able to get their way, what would be the point of having elections in the first place? To return to the family metaphor, one spouse can't be allowed to get his way by threatening to make the family homeless.
The Republican Party is now in the throes of a struggle between those who are conservative but recognize that there is reality beyond the conservative echo chamber and those who, in the words of Robert Costa at National Review, "believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible."
I sincerely hope that this struggle is resolved soon in favor of the reality-based Republicans, and there are signs of progress as of this writing. Our country would be better off. But beyond the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis caused by Republican extremists, we're still left with the broader debate between progressives and right-wingers, a debate built ultimately around a set of related questions: Who are we? What defines us as a people? What is our national identity?
The reason the right hates Obamacare (and Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, financial regulations, food stamps, and on and on) is because they have a fundamentally warped understanding of who we are and what freedom means. Republicans are focused solely on the individual as a stand-alone unit, and they believe individuals rise and fall completely on their own merits.
According to conservatives, successful people always deserve their success and as for the rest, well, they deserve what they get as well. Right-wingers don't believe that any solution based on the people acting together, through our government, can work well. Of course, they make sure that government doesn"t work well when they hold the reins of power.
Progressives recognize that we can address problems, such as poverty among the elderly, or among families with children, to name a couple of examples, through programs that provide security and/or insurance for those who need it. We also recognize that sometimes even people who work hard and play by the rules still need some help, and that any one of us could ultimately find ourselves in such a position. Progressives understand that individuals succeed not only because of their own talents, but also because of the broader environment we create as a society.
It may be emotionally satisfying to shake one's fist and declare: "leave me alone, I'll take care of myself!" However, as Americans, we need one another a lot more than the "rugged individuals" on the right want to believe. When push came to shove, even Ayn Rand took Medicare and Social Security when medical costs resulting from lung cancer threatened to bankrupt her.
For our country to continue to thrive, the Republican party is going to have to marginalize the extremists who have shut down our government and threaten to default on our debts, something that would severely damage our economy. They must be broken.
After that, the two parties can compete for votes at election time, and make reasonable compromises in between elections if and when we have divided government. I'm confident that progressive ideas will prevail more often than not. Our country deserves a system like that, where both parties accept the verdict of elections and recognize that blackmail is not a legitimate tool with which to govern.
But in order to get there, we have to make sure right now that blackmail does not bring a single benefit to those who practice it.