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Foolish futility

Posted: October 4, 2013 - 2:30pm

Let’s give the tea partyers the credit they deserve, because they have pulled off a near-miracle: They have unified the Democrats. It’s hard to remember the last time President Barack Obama and the herd of cats in his own party were marching in such lock step. But then, the extremists are, to be honest, way over their heads. Unfortunately, they control the Republican agenda, dragging their up-till-now wimpy leaders into their “defund Obamacare” fool’s errand. Even after the government shutdown and even with the threat of a catastrophic national default looming, they have goaded the enemy D’s into hanging together and hanging tough.

In fact, they’re rubbing the R’s’ noses in the mess they’ve created. It’s actually kind of entertaining, in a sad way, to watch as the right-wingers squirm by passing legislation in the House to provide money for whichever programs have gotten hardship publicity. That’s gone nowhere, which is where their whole crusade is heading. Even if they voted to restart the popular Pandacam at the National Zoo, they’d slam into a stone wall of resolve from the other side.

Obama finally is doing what he should have done a long time ago, refusing to deal with childish conniptions. The defund-Obamacare tantrum is not worth rewarding. Face it, hardliners, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is not going away. You had your chance in Congress, but it passed there in 2010. You had another one before the Supreme Court in 2012, but a majority of the justices upheld it. It is the law of the land. Under the Constitution’s so-called Take Care clause, Article 3, Section 3, a president “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Notice that was SHALL take care, not MAY. It’s not optional unless he believes it is unconstitutional, but the Supremes have already taken care of that question.

The actions of some lawmakers to undermine the law arguably means that they’re treacherously close to being lawbreakers. They certainly have broken faith with a country that, since the Civil War, has thrived because of its stability, where the most passionate arguments are resolved by concern for the nation’s well-being. That is visibly unraveling now. Too many politicians these days are propelled by irrational ignorance. Even worse are the ones whose motivation is calculated ambition, who want to move up by intentionally appealing to fear and poorly informed gullibility.

House Speaker John Boehner and others who have a brain in their head are needed as we approach the intersection of sane and crazy. Unlike Casey Stengel’s admonition “If you come to a fork in the road take it,” the Speaker knows he has to choose. It’s encouraging and not surprising that he’s decided to stand up to the fanatics in his party. He’s told them that he will not allow his country to slide into default, which means economic disaster. He has insisted that he’ll combine forces with the Democrats if necessary to stop his loonies from severely damaging the United States with default. If he holds firm and even risks losing his speakership if the extremists try and exact their revenge, he could head into history as an example of political courage. It’s time to stop those who care more about their narrow-minded agenda than about the U.S. Otherwise they will continue to push us over a cliff toward the long fall to second-rate status in the world. Either he stands up to them or goes down as the vandals’ accomplice.

I should point out that my wife works for the Fed, for the Voice of America. Right now, VOA has got its hands full explaining a system of government that’s looking mighty foolish. Her bosses are not pleased when I point out again how imperative it is that any plans to correct the massive budget problems must include a major reform of the bloated federal bureaucracy. That should be a basis for meaningful budget negotiations once we get past the shutdown and debt-ceiling crises and involve leaders who have better ideas than government by hissy fit.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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