Last new year I was discussing the American scene with my friend Ellen, who teaches English to high school students in Norway. At the time I promised I would blog a bit about American politics so that her students might get a different viewpoint from that of the Norwegian press/BBC. What with one thing and another (starting a new job, starting another new job, and a few other things), I haven’t yet gotten down to it.

That said, yesterday my friend Kevin posted a really succinct take on the US government shutdown that he said I could share with Ellen’s class, with a bit of a gloss. I’ll try to do some of this kind of blogging with some regularity as well.

As noted, this is for students of English, so a little preliminary vocabulary is in order.

  • GOP – Grand Old Party, a nickname of the Republican party.
  • Barry Goldwater – Fiscally conservative Republican senator who lost the 1964 presidential election to Lyndon Johnson.
  • Dominionism – Dominion Theology or Dominionism is the idea that Christians should work toward either a nation governed by Christians or one governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.

Let us be clear about what is happening to our government, shall we? While it is true to say that through a combination of arrogance and obstinacy the GOP has shut down the government, this was not the intention of the GOP as a whole. Indeed, the GOP is not whole. It is a coalition of distinct factions; the old style Republicans, the wealthy oligarchs, the neo-cons, the religious conservatives, and the tea party libertarians.
Since the 80s the old Barry Goldwater Republicans and the oligarchs had a hard enough time holding the religious conservatives inside the party while making minimal progress on their theological agenda. The extremely wealthy don’t have that much in common with the people that the leaders of the religious right rely upon as a base – once the born-again trend that swept the middle class in the 70s and 80s was over, they were left with a large majority of poor working class folks.
But they truly made a deal with the devil when they brought the Tea Party and the NeoCons into the party – these groups don’t just want smaller government and lower taxes, they believe that the government itself is the root of most of the country’s problems, and that we’d all be better off without it. Combined with the Dominionists amongst the religious right, who believe that the separation of church and state and inability to institute religious laws is a restriction on their religious freedom, this view is now held by a very large percentage of the Republican Party.
For these people there is no downside to destroying Obamacare or to shutting down the US Government – both are a win in their eyes. One would scale back the government, the other would demonstrate to the nation that it can survive without the federal government. And because they have the power to unseat Republicans who do not adhere their line by challenging them at the ballot, either taking their seats or handing the Democrats a win, the Tea Party, Neocons and Dominionists were able to make the resistance of any objectors in the party ineffective. So while the more moderate Republicans learned from the arrogant gobsmacking idiocy of Newt Gingrich, their hands were tied.
And this is how a handful of fanatical ideologues were able to dictate the policy of a national party over cooler, more rational heads, and crash our government.