A backstory is the story behind the story. Since the first of October, we have been flooded with television cable and network news stories about the government shutdown. The short story is that a right-wing faction within the House of Representatives has used Obamacare as their main reason for not acting to lift the debt ceiling, thereby forcing the shutdown. President Barack Obama wisely has refused to negotiate with them. (More on that later.)
But there is a story behind this story. Either by accident or design, various media have framed the issue as a blame game. Who is to blame for this dangerous and embarrassing situation? Is it Democrats or Republicans? President Obama or Speaker of the House John Boehner? Is it freshman Sen. Ted Cruz and the tea party faction of the Republican Party? All of the above?
In my opinion, this blame game is a useless diversion from the backstory. The central question is not who or what. It’s why. If a foreign power or terrorist source somehow posed a credible threat to throw America into default (i.e., a possible outcome of continuing deadlock), we might consider it an act of war. Why would we do it to ourselves?
I think the answer lies in factional hatred of President Obama. Think about it. In their second terms, U.S. presidents typically are interested in a thing called legacy. It is inconceivable that any sitting U.S. president would want history to record them as the president who deliberately, recklessly, shamelessly, stupidly trashed ours (and possibly the world’s) economy. The last thing President Obama wants to see is a government shutdown. Now, please consider this view of Obamacare.
Obamacare enrollment happened the same day as the government shutdown. President Obama’s snarling opponents on the Hill made Obamacare — the promise of insurability to 50 million uninsured Americans — a bogus sticking point. Raising the debt ceiling is a routine function of governing. As mentioned earlier, according to the president, the new health care law and paying our bills are totally unrelated and not subject to negotiation. I think he’s right. There’s more.
Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, was a totally bipartisan effort that passed both the House and the Senate in 2010, subsequently was judged to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was one of the key debate issues prior to the 2012 election. Barack Obama won that election. So why the fuss? It’s law. The only way it might get undone is if Republicans take the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives in the next election cycles.
Here’s another part of the backstory. Obamacare is deeply rooted in conservative thinking. Among other things, it mandates greater personal responsibility on the part of ordinary citizens. As we know, the idea of personal responsibility is one of the pillars of conservative ideology. Beyond that, the plan is a boon to private insurers who suddenly find themselves with nearly 50 million potential new customers. America’s conservatives should be quite happy with that.
But Obamacare is a history-making biggie. It ranks right up there with now decades old legislation that put into place Social Security, Unemployment Insurance and Medicare. As such, the Affordable Care Act likely will be the most important part of Obama’s legacy. For that reason alone, a handful of right-wing legislators just can’t stand it. That is the backstory answer to the question of who is to blame for the government shutdown. Why play games with it?
What I suggest we are witnessing is the end game of a pathetic goal Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell articulated prior to the last presidential election: “[Our] single most important job is to defeat President Obama in 2012.” McConnell is joined by a small faction in the Senate and the House, and backed by wealthy ultra-conservatives and tea party activists who are committed only to the destruction of Barack Obama’s presidency, and hence, his legacy. In fact, the Obama-haters wish destruction on his entire administration, leaving him only as a historical footnote.
I cannot know, but I believe President Obama’s legacy is secure. I’m only sure that all things happen for a reason. Our future, as individuals and as a nation, is not in the hands of Obama, Boehner, McConnell, any man, or any group. Our future is in God’s hands, and he works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform!
Have a nice day.
Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.