Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
It’s supposed to be a sign of progress that House Republican leadership is prepared to support a clean short-term debt-ceiling hike, in order to fight on to destroy the Affordable Care Act by keeping the government shut down. In fact, it’s just more cruelty in motion, another sign that Republicans don’t care about the people, even within their own party, who depend on government and are being shattered by this shutdown.
Let’s put aside for the moment that House Speaker John Boehner’s proposal could wind up just like his “Plan B” for averting the fiscal cliff: a disaster that can’t win the support of his own party’s Wingnut Caucus. (I can’t keep calling them the Tea Party, it’s just too benign a label.) Crazy Steve King just told Luke Russert he won’t back the deal; others will follow.
For now let’s just focus on what this says to the country: that the people suffering while the government is shut down just don’t matter. Sure, the House GOP keeps floating grandstanding bills that would open this or that program, but they know they won’t pass. And they just don’t care. The GOP’s paymasters have spoken, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Heritage Action to FreedomWorks, and they have said a debt default is unacceptable – but the ongoing government shutdown is delectable. The “attention of Republicans and conservatives needs to be back on Obamacare and not on other ways out of this situation,” Heritage Action’s Michael Needham told reporters, so that Republicans can put all their power into keeping the government closed while savaging the Affordable Care Act.
So Boehner and friends listened, and now we have a short-term debt ceiling deal afoot that keeps the government closed.
Remember that the shutdown comes on top of the ugly sequester cuts imposed earlier this year, and mostly to the exact same discretionary domestic spending programs. To the cold hearts and closed minds on the right, neither matters. In fact, Sen. Ron Johnson, a member of the growing Default Denier Caucus within his own party (it overlaps quite a lot with the Stupid Caucus), told MSNBC Thursday that just as President Obama is fear-mongering on the danger of a debt default – he called it a “cash management” problem), he had also exaggerated the impact of sequester cuts.
Also keep in mind that the sequester cuts are currently baked into the “clean” continuing resolution that the Senate has passed repeatedly. That’s a compromise on the Democrats’ part that is mostly ignored by the media.
I would never say “both sides do it,” but it must be acknowledged that the incredible privilege of virtually everyone associated with the federal government in Washington, D.C., and yes, in both parties, insulates them from the real suffering elsewhere in the nation. (Many Democrats are capable of empathy nonetheless.) And if you want to understand why “false equivalence” dominates the media narrative, that’s a huge factor: the privilege and insularity of the Beltway media. I won’t name names right now but I’m watching writers and pundits I admire on television today applauding the House GOP proposal as a step forward, because a) their jobs depend on being the first to hail signs of “progress” and b) because they’re really not focused on the suffering this ongoing crisis has caused, because it hits no one they know.
On top of the 800,000 federal workers furloughed, who will miss three paychecks if the House GOP deal is accepted, food banks are now reporting shortages, since the Emergency Food Assistance program is closed. North Carolina has entirely suspended its Women, Infants and Children nutrition program because it relied so heavily on federal funding, and other states are likely to follow. (Think Progress, as always, has the best list of impacts, here.) Ironically red states are feeling the shutdown most because they get so much federal funding, but since the impact is mainly on poor people, they don’t care.
This all goes back to August of 2011, when the president unwisely opened negotiations over the debt ceiling with the impotent and sneaky Boehner, and Boehner gave nothing, and then said he got “98 percent” of what he sought. We have lived with unconscionable austerity ever since. Obama came out and boasted, as he has many times since, that he’d agreed to a deal to cut discretionary spending to the lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was president, in the 1950s, which is something no Democrat should ever be proud of.
Two years later, Obama gets that, and so far the White House has said the clean debt-ceiling hike without reopening the government is unacceptable. (Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney just told reporters at his daily briefing, after a lot of parsing, that the president would actually sign a clean short-term debt-ceiling hike, but he seems to be counting on the fact that the House Wingnut Caucus won’t let Boehner pass one.) If Boehner’s gambit fails, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s one-year clean debt-ceiling hike will be the only legislation on the table. That’s the way it should be. But pay attention to what Boehner’s trying to do: mollify his plutocratic bosses while savaging the poor. That’s your “moderate” and “reasonable” GOP in action.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)