The New Capulets and Montagues

Two households, both alike in dignity, 
In fair [Washington], where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. 

— William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, prologue

They should’ve been happy. After the budget sequestration took effect, which lowers spending by about $1.1 trillion over 8 years, Republicans should have been ecstatic in achieving the cost-cutting that they had been aiming at since President Obama took office.

But something got in the way.

not so little thing called the Tea Party, a group of my-way-or-the-highway ultra-conservatives, has been relentless in their single-minded determination at terminating Obamacare.

After the government shutdown took place last night, Speaker Boehner called a meeting with his peevish members.

Boehner: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Rand Paul: I do bite my thumb, sir.

Boehner: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Mike Pence: No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.

Todd Akin: Do you quarrel, sir?
Boehner: Quarrel, sir? No, sir!

Steve King: If you do, sir, I am for you. I serve as good a man as you.
Boehner: No better?
James Lankford: Well, sir… Yes, better, sir.
Boehner: You lie.
Michele Bachmann: Draw, if you be men!

And so the in-fighting continues.

Once upon a time, there was a unified Republican party. That’s all gone because a group of 80 House members are fighting over passing a continuing resolution to fund the government, only, if they can strip out (and ultimately dispose of) Obamacare.

But there is a larger threat looming on the horizon.

As CNN Political Analyst David Gergen, a former advisor to both Republican and Democratic presidents points out, “Shutdowns are a lousy way to run a government. Just for starters, this one has cut off services to women and children in need, furloughed hundreds of thousands, further shaken the confidence of the public, sent a shudder through the financial world and created new storm clouds over the economy. And once again the world is wondering about our capacity for leadership.

“But all of this damage pales in comparison with the danger posed by a second, lurking threat: a default on our public finances.

“The United States has had 17 government shutdowns since 1977 and has generally recovered well. But we have never had a default. Experts, while not fully certain, are convinced that it could be hugely destructive — even leading to a worldwide financial meltdown. Unless Congress and the White House get their act together, we could default in less than three weeks.

“But,” Gergen adds, “a shutdown could have a silver lining. It could be such an electric shock to the political system that it forces the politicians in Washington to settle their squabbles before the default deadline.

“What we know from past shutdowns is that not only citizens — especially older ones dependent on Social Security and Medicare — start raising hell, but so do business and financial leaders who see damage rippling across their economic interests. Politicians are increasingly seen as villains. Pressure tends to grow so unbearable that eventually Washington finds a solution.

“Most of the pressure this time will be directed toward Republicans who have misplayed their hand. A new poll by CNN/ORC shows that 46% of Americans blame the shutdown on Republicans, seeing them as spoiled children. Thirty six percent blame President Obama, and 13% point fingers at both…

“Yes,” Gergen says, “conservative hard-liners have chosen the wrong place to fight; arguments over Obamacare are no excuse to shut down the government. Yes, hard-liners like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are creating deeper partisan divides. But Democrats can ill afford to continue rejecting any talks or negotiations.

“Now that the shutdown has happened, Obama has a fresh opportunity — indeed a fresh responsibility — to seize the mantle of leadership and get us out of this mess. Instead of just blaming the Republicans, he should call in the leaders of both parties and in Lyndon Johnson fashion, keep ’em talking till they get a deal.”

Is peace possible in the new normal of government dysfunction?

Only if those chosen to represent and lead can find a way to work together toward common ground, rather than a single agenda. If they can’t, they should step aside and allow real leaders to do so.

Even the Capulets and Montagues ultimately found a way to settle their differences.

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