The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 14, 2013

The devil is in the detour

By Gary Grossman
The Daily Item

SUNBURY — It is hard to pinpoint exactly when the dissident wing of the Republican Party lost.

Some will say the obstructionists never had much traction. Some will blame the effects of the government shutdown.

Others will say the tide turned when Wall Street’s financial interests were dragged too close to the cliff.

In the arc of the entire affair, through one tactic after another, very little rose to minimal expectation for competent adult behavior.

They began by saying they would not play unless the rules changed. Next, they held their breath. Then, they held everybody’s else’s breath. Finally, their financial backers said they would cut off their allowances and everybody else promised them a spanking at the polls.

Despite all this, the rebellious Republicans actually had a point of view that deserves serious, adult consideration. We are spending money and acquiring debt at a furious rate and promising to deliver services that appear impossible to fund in the face of predictable demographic changes.

Many of the claims about tax-and-spend Democrats and spend-without-tax Republicans are worrisomely true. It is hard to see how we conduct foreign wars off the books and put domestic entitlements on the credit cards with nothing more substantial than rosy scenarios in the bank.

We are not governing ourselves responsibly.

Still, that does not mean voters do not know better or that we do not expect better. Washington and the media have that part of the equation all wrong.

You could see it daily as people sifted the spin and dribble associated with the government shutdown and the debt ceiling showdown.

While the left went in search of anecdotal tragedy and the right clung to victory through anarchy, much of America rejected the hype and recoiled at the hypocrisy.

Clearly, park rangers did not need to arrest a jogger after his fitness run at Valley Forge. Nor should they have tried to bar World War II vets from an honor visit to the memorial erected in their name.

The withholding of death benefits from the surviving families of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan was an outrage that Congress failed to prevent, even though the Pentagon had alerted Washington and the American public to that specific potential outcome before the shutdown.

The notion that members of Congress would retain their pay and perks (the Congressional gym was deemed an essential service) while purposefully not delivering services they were supposed to manage did not sit well with taxpayers.

The fact that essential federal workers had to show up to dangerous duty — as soldiers, corrections officers and capitol police — even while their paychecks were withheld was grossly unfair.

The decision to pay non-essential federal workers retroactively in order to minimize lingering resentment among staff and others within the close-at-hand workforce, appeared highly selective.

Average citizens receive no such consideration when their job shops suspend production.

By week’s end, Congressional approval was in single digits, at 5 percent in an Associated Press/GfK survey.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found President Barack Obama’s positives at 47 percent, Democrats at 39 percent, Republicans at 24 percent and Tea Party followers at 21 percent.

In that poll, 70 percent of Americans said Republicans were putting politics ahead of what was good for the country.

Cathleen Decker of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “For Republicans, the last 10 days have felt like falling down a darkened elevator shaft: You want to hit bottom, but wonder about the odds of survival.”

Diminishing, we would expect.

Because the obstructionists are bunkered in designer districts, pocketed into stubborn layers of tradition and resentment, there is broad belief that incumbents only have to burrow deeper into the darkness to survive all but the political equivalent of a nuclear winter.

If they remain at 5 percent approval and 70 percent disgrace, they will be deeper than ever by the 2014 next election.

Scratching a winning majority from those depths is no testament to the office holder, but it does say something about the utterly hideous work of district makers who attack the census every 10 years to design detours that avoid democratic pluralism.

What it says is just not something nice to say.