Party of pain

Fans of representative democracy know that there are ways to advocate one’s beliefs short of threatening and delivering harm to the larger society. It used to be that one could blame the parade of manufactured crises not on the whole Republican Party but on its unruly tea party faction. That’s becoming less and less so as what remains of the pragmatic leadership caves in to the extremists’ demands.

The GOP’s perspective on governing seems to have moved from enlightenment to medieval. It’s become the party of pain.

Before I go on, let me salute some individual Republicans for standing up to the insanity within their party: Rep. Peter King of New York, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania. You represent the Republican Party of my father.

For all their patriotic posturing, the tea party bomb throwers don’t like America very much. Worse, they don’t understand how democratic governments or economies work. Some of their political leaders do know but don’t care, using their electorate’s confusion to enrich themselves off their bankroller billionaires and right-wing media.

There’s nothing to do about these voters. They won’t squawk until their own checks — for Medicare, Social Security, farm subsidies, roadwork — stop arriving. Tea party congressional districts tend to be poor, old, rural and on the receiving end. If anyone is a burden to productive America, they are. And irony of ironies, by holding the federal budget ransom, they are making it hard for productive America to support them.

And so Obama had to cancel a trip to Asia to baby-sit Republican tantrums in Washington. The financial and psychological damage of this shutdown keeps rising.

The Republican Party’s staunchest allies — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers — are now tearing out their hair, demanding a stop to all this ignoramus talk about a debt default’s being no big deal. “Our nation has never defaulted in the past, and failing to raise the debt limit in a timely fashion will seriously disrupt our fragile economy and have a ripple effect through the world,” wrote the president of NAM, nobody’s idea of a liberal.

You have the formerly pragmatic Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina speculating that a default on government debt is a manageable situation. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has his nutty solution: spending piecemeal. If there’s not enough tax money coming in during a particular month, he says, we can decide what it gets spent on. Great, let’s have fistfights every month over whether North Cascades National Park can answer its email or not.

America’s savers and investors, meanwhile, are given a choice of a kneecapping or punch in the stomach. It comes down to this: Either stock prices collapse now as a warning to Republicans that a default would be catastrophic or they stay stable for the time being in the investors’ belief that Republicans aren’t crazy enough to let it happen. If investors’ belief in Republican sanity proves wrong, then they get whacked.

One can distinguish less and less between irresponsible Republicans and the mature ones because the conscientious ones lack the guts or simple patriotism to stop the national wrecking crew within their party. We’re talking to you, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Looking forward to 2014, Republicans may have already lost their swing vote. And even districts packed with tea party discontents may not be so safe as they assume.

Once it sinks in that their checks come from Washington and not from heaven, the hotheads will turn on a dime. They’re all about themselves. And please stop calling them “conservatives.”

Froma Harrop is a Providence Journal columnist. Her email address is

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