Washington’s antics during crisis were certainly no tea party

The recent government shutdown raised a number of troubling issues


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Tea parties used to be fun, cordial affairs where people were civil to each other. Now, the term “tea party” brings to mind illogic, ill-tempers and obstructionism. The recent government shutdown raised a number of troubling issues and produced a number of interesting commentaries and thoughts. In no particular order, several of them struck me as instructive.

Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, noted the best model for the actions of the House Republicans was that of the Middle East, where instead of reason, each faction’s interpretation of the scriptures leads people to fight, murder and divide. This may have been hyperbole, but it was sobering.

Many commentators noted the effect a default on the debt would have on stock markets and on the United States’ position as the core of the world economy. Yet, notwithstanding the warnings of those who actually understand economics, a number of the tea party caucus members indicated they thought a U.S. default was no big deal.

I believe the historical antecedent to this caucus was known as the “Know Nothings.”

The overwhelming public disapproval of the situation in Washington extended to all of the players, including President Obama, who did not seem willing to budge, the Senate leadership -- at least until the Senate took the lead to get out of the stalemate -- and both House Democrats and Republicans, although House Republicans got the largest share of the blame for the situation, as well they should.

Nonetheless, after the whole thing was over, political prognosticators indicated that the GOP still has the odds-on chance to retain control of the House in the 2014 elections. This is attributed to the shape and composition of the majority of congressional districts that have been drawn carefully to protect incumbents.

If that is what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they designed the lower house of government, I must have missed something in my constitutional law class. It may be time for the Supreme Court to revisit this issue, or for some neutral mechanism to be devised to draw districts sensibly, so contests occur in elections.

This observer does not believe the observers are right -- if the tea party antics continue, I would bet on a change in control in the House.

House Speaker John Boehner obviously lost control of his party and faced a split and fractured group. Boehner is smarter and more responsible than his actions would suggest, and he must have been miserable. The situation seemed to indicate he would rather be speaker than right, but he also may know that the alternative to him as speaker might be chaos if a tea party member became speaker. A sorry spectacle, either way.

The New York Times reported the troubling story that the shutdown was not spontaneous, but carefully planned by the Koch brothers, with detailed scripts and strategy papers distributed as long ago as the middle of the summer. What does that say about democracy?

*****

On the other side of the coin, New Hampshire’s two female U.S. senators received incredible coverage and accolades on the part they played in helping get the country out of the unnecessary jam the tea party people put the country in.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte early on decided which side she was on, condemning the actions of the House Republicans and allying herself with Sen. John McCain and others who, while not for a moment agreeing with the deficit or Obamacare, pointed out that there is a right way to act and a wrong way, and advocating for the right way.

She teamed up with Susan Collins of Maine and other women in the GOP to urge Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to act responsibly.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen likewise took the lead in hosting a pizza party for women of both parties, and reports were that this spurred the majority of the 20 women senators to start talking about compromise, resolution and moving forward together.

Both of New Hampshire’s senators deserve great credit, but it is ironic that people are getting such praise for doing what voters expect their representatives to do.

There undoubtedly is a lesson for Senate leadership of both parties to learn from the actions of the women in the Senate. Maybe the women should be the leadership!

After the compromise was reached, most commentators noted that it was merely a temporary fix, and the country would face the same set of issues in January and February. Let’s hope not.

The divide in the GOP will continue, and hopefully saner heads will prevail and these tea party people will fade away. If not, the party will face the continued loss of traditional conservatives, to say nothing of moderates.

All of which reminds me of my favorite rock-and-roll song title, “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.”

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.


 

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