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Shutdown deal done but war goes on: No winners, only losers

The Tea Party forced through a shutdown, not for nothing, but to raise campaign funding and media visibility.

Last Modified: 17 Oct 2013 10:30
Danny Schechter

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits MediaChannel.org. He is the author of The Crime of Our Time.
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"The Tea Party offensive was widely seen as offensive, or as an extortion ploy, an attempt to nullify a law but also a non-starter," writes Danny Schechter [Getty Images]

So what was it all about? The Senate deal ending the shutdown and deferring a default until the next time has solved nothing. It is as if we have been given a break for Thanksgiving and the Christmas shopping season until the partisan wars resume. The fighting and arguing have only ceased temporarily.

It is unlikely that any of the instigators have learned anything other than how a handful of parliamentary-savvy kamikazes can bring the government to its knees in the name of a righteous cause - not to bring about change but to try to stop changes they don't like.

When the Ted Cruz missile against Obamacare helped trigger the melee that closed national parks, limited government services and disrupted the livelihoods of 800,000 federal employees and the lives of millions, many wondered why, when it was clear the extreme right was pursuing an unachievable goal.

Senator John McCain warned them that they couldn't stop the healthcare reform act, as did others in their party. The White House stood firm as did most Democrats. The Tea Party offensive was widely seen as offensive, or as an extortion ploy, an attempt to nullify a law but also a non-starter.

That didn't stop the true believers. Like the Light Brigade of old, they charged on. Clearly this was a case of ideology uber-politics, but behind it was a strategy.

Short-term gain?

First, they wanted to weaken the Republican centre and they did, making Speaker Boehner look powerless and out of control. The best media line about him was that he was "herding cats”.

Second, they wanted to prove that if they don't get their way, no one else can or will.

They conceded a short term tactical set back but lived to fight another day for longer-term goals. In that way, they got to be "responsible” and continue to enjoy business support.

As some Democrats celebrated, AP reported, "Hold the champagne. Even after lawmakers complete their pending deal to avert a federal default and fully reopen the government, they are likely to return to their grinding brand of brinkmanship - perhaps repeatedly.”

"Brinksmanship” is another word for systematic political warfare. This spasm of rebellion emboldened the fundamentalists among them; it did not weaken them.

Sure, they overreached tactically - if you assume what they were saying was their real agenda.

As former federal regulator William Black explained in an article about their "tactical brilliance but strategic incompetence”, their demands could not be met, but that was never the point.

Black writes, "The means by which the GOP sought to extort Obama to sacrifice Obamacare made it impossible for Obama to surrender to the Tea Party. The Tea Party was openly threatening to use very short-term extensions of the debt ceiling to repeatedly extort Obama to make enormous, humiliating concessions. This meant that if Obama gave in to their extortion he was dooming his presidency.”

If you assume they knew this, what was the real strategy?

Energising the base

They created a crisis to show that they could create a crisis and milk it as long as they could. It was a way that junior members of Conrgress could get press attention.

It was also a way of energising their base, not just politically, but financially.

The Ted Cruz 'filibuster' … served no actual legislative purpose .... That's zombie politics, and the problem with zombies is that - being dead already - they're incredibly hard to kill.

- Felix Salmon, financial blogger Reuters

The Daily Kos commented on Instigator in Chief Ted Cruz's claim that two million people signed his petition noting that he now has a much larger list of potential donors. In this respect, he sees himself as a winner, not a loser.

He used the crisis to build a media profile with a self-promotional filibuster that excited supporters, even though it lacked in clarity, logic and analysis.

Felix Salmon, a financial blogger for Reuters, noted, "The Ted Cruz 'filibuster' … served no actual legislative purpose, and at the end of his idiotically long speech, Cruz ended up voting yes on the very bill he was trying to kill. That's zombie politics, and the problem with zombies is that - being dead already - they're incredibly hard to kill.”

To him the Tea Party is a zombie army, a movement, not a person - and it's an aggressively anti-logical movement, at that. Salmon argues, "You can't negotiate with a zombie.” (Many Americans identify with zombies these days because of their overexposure on TV and in the movies.)

So, we need to understand that this confrontation was never about logic or even a clear political agenda; it was about movement-building and dominating the discourse through hostage-taking to bully and intimidate centrist Republicans and Democrats alike. Most of all, they wanted to snub the nation's father figure - President Obama.

Behind their slogans, they were saying to the folks at home, "Look at me".

In that respect, the zealots were wildly successful in keeping their faux rebellion going, cheered on by Faux News and the underbelly their visibility attracts, including the guy grinning like an idiot and waving the Confederate flag in front of the White House,

The Atlantic, and many liberal media outlets, have convinced themselves that the "Republicans Shut Down the Government for Nothing”, but it was always all about them, not specific goals.

This strategy is, at the end, about interests, not issues; power, not political advantage.

Republican consultant and former Boehner aide Terry Holt admits, "The differences are not about objectives, the differences are about tactics. This is the muddle-through Congress: We are going to lurch from disaster to disaster until we have the prelude, which is 2014 and then the next presidential election. There is no incentive for either side to give in, period."

So there you have it, a declaration of permanent war in which, like guerillas in combat, the point is not to hold ground but to keep moving and harass the enemy, keeping them off guard whatever the costs to the economy or the morale of the country.

They expect many Americans will surrender just to have peace, and that's how a relentless minority can impose its agenda.

The Vietnamese General Giap who died last week at age 102, used similar tactics that were grounded in the idea that war is politics by other means.

Bloomberg interviewed a moderate Republican, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who explained, "There are no winners in this process, everybody loses. The only question you guys are trying to figure out is who loses more? And how long-term the damage will be?”

Former veteran newspaperman Bernard Weiner, now the co-editor of The Crisis Papers tried to explain all this to friends in France, writing:

"Even in the best of times, American politics rarely makes rational sense. But right now is almost the worst of times. From Europe it may appear that you are witnessing recess at a school for naughty, malicious children. While that's true, we need to enlarge the frame of that portrait to get closer to the whole picture and to assign proper blame rather than just accept the mainstream media's false meme that 'both sides are equally responsible' for the governmental shutdown and debt crisis.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits MediaChannel.org. He is the author of The Crime of Our Time.

Follow Danny Schechter on Twitter:@DannySchechter

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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