I was watching C-Span last night, and I caught Tea Party darling Marco Rubio calling the federal government shutdown his party caused a "slowdown." Fox News is referring to it as a "slimdown" (hey, who doesn't like a slimdown?), at the behest of the Heritage Foundation. Still, other Republicans are busy trying - and miserably failing - to convince Americans that the shutdown is President Obama's fault.
While the Tea Party is convinced in their little bubbles that government funding must be held hostage to try to end a law they don't like, the Republican response to the shutdown they have caused is in complete shambles. So much so that the party known for strict, poll-tested message discipline can't even decide on a unified term, let alone a unified message.
Properly seen, the reason for the complete message disarray is obvious. The party is so fractured that they have no unified agenda. There are the Tea Party Republicans - by all accounts a minority within the House Republican caucus who seem to be nonetheless be controlling dysfunction - who honestly believe that the government shutdown is a good thing. They are true believers in their profound hatred for government, and when the government is shut down, they celebrate because to them, government is the root of all evil. It is this crowd that has termed the shutdown a "slimdown" (sounds like a protein shake, does it have chocolate in it?) or a "slowdown." For a crowd that is genuinely contemptuous of government, these are terms openly displaying that they celebrate the shutdown.
Which is precisely what is scaring the pants off of other Republicans who wish to salvage their party from the iron grips of their own Tea Party Frankenstein. Since before President Obama came into office, the one thing that has unified the Republican party is their contempt for the president and their eagerness to pretend America began on January 20, 2009 and blame all problems on Obama. But when members of their own party - indeed the controlling members of their own party - are referring to the shutdown in terms that make it look benign, it makes it that much difficult to blame the president for it. After all, even the Republican base gets the absurdity of saying "it's Obama's fault" when you don't even consider "it" to be a bad thing.
The Republican establishment understands that if they have any hopes of even semi-convincing the American people that the shutdown is at least partly the president's fault (which is of course a laughable idea), they cannot have powerful factions of their party - and their very own propaganda outlet - refer to it in endearing terms. That is a two-edged sword. It (a) makes a mockery of their attempt to blame the president for something they are saying is good, and more dangerously, (b) says to the people that the Republican party does believe the shutdown is a good thing, and not simply politically. When people begin to see the GOP celebrating the shutdown, their disgust against the GOP will only grow as their suspicion of GOP's culpability is affirmed by luminaries within the party itself.
The biggest reason this shutdown is turning out to be a nightmare for the Republican party isn't the president and the Democrats standing firm in the face of their economic terrorism and making it clear that the government's operations cannot be taken hostage just because you do not like a settled law that is bringing affordable health care to millions of people. The biggest reason John Boehner would be breaking out in sweats were he not loaded up on bourbon is that Ted Cruz and the Tea Party have hung Boehner and other establishment Republicans out to dry, and they have realized it a little late.
Speaker Boehner has got himself into this. But the really sad part is that he's gotten the country caught up in the cross fire between his party's civil war. Fight it out with your Tea Party hotheads, Mr. Speaker, but in the mean time, quit holding America hostage.
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