The Times Record of Brunswick (Maine) Oct. 2, 2013

It's every tea partier's Holy Grail: a government shutdown. You can almost feel their queer mix of giddiness and anger.

After all, what you can't win in the policy debates, you can now get at the barrel of a new form of government thuggery.

It's more of the same with these hostage-taking right-wing legislators: Create a financial crisis where one does not exist to stir up a climate of fear, the easier to get rid of programs no sane legislator would ever vote against. We've seen it with Meals on Wheels and food stamps, in April's sequestration, and now this.

Better no government than bad government? Um, no. Only for the brainless who treat one government program the same as the next.

Of course, the bandits of common sense will say it's President Obama who is the culprit for the federal government shutdown that began Tuesday. He refused to negotiate GOP demands to alter, defund, delay or otherwise scuttle Obamacare, which promises to extend health care for the first time to some 44 million Americans and will actually will help reduce the nation's long-term deficit (to the extent that Obamacare has anything at all to do with whether the entire government should cease to function).

Never mind Obamacare passed both houses of Congress, was signed by the president, is backed by the U.S. Supreme Court, won a national presidential referendum in 2012 and is endorsed by numerous health policy leaders.


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Never mind a version of Obamacare designed by then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and based on a model from the conservative Heritage Foundation is now being sold to you as the downfall of society (Who was it who said, "Whatever you do to the least of us, you do unto me?" We forget.).

And never mind Obamacare went into effect anyway.

This is about raw politics; something to stick in the face of a president who's now won two elections with electoral landslides and presided over the healing and slow expansion of a GOP-led economic destruction under George W. Bush.

But even by that measure, who are the Republican pollsters who think closing parks, stopping payments to the needy and snatching paychecks from 800,000 federal workers and their families is good politics? How ridiculously, quixotically brainless and short-sighted -- for the nation, and for what few conservatives remain who actually want responsible government.

Remember the GOP-led shutdown in 1995? Remember how the brinksmanship over last year's debt ceiling debate -- yet to be fought anew -- cut the nation's credit rating and sent job, credit and stock markets into a spin?

How'd that work out?

And why are these suicidal spending revolts always led by Republicans? Self-inflicted economic wounds have become their specialty.

The precedent of using a government shutdown as a proxy to fight and win what were once standard policy debates -- over the debt ceiling, budget deficits, essential programs -- will damage our economy in the short run.

But shutting down government in order to derail (which it didn't) a single program will have a much more corrosive -- and long-lasting -- effect on the democratic process itself.

When the food stamps run out and your kids go hungry, the interstate overpass crumbles or the avenues to obtain health insurance or just a day at Acadia National Park are denied you; when you need some help with heating oil or applying for a business loan; or if you need a federal environmental impact study for a new train facility proposed for your neighborhood, just remember the new rule of American representative government:

Play my way, or I'm taking my ball and going home.

Dumb, mean, ineffective and totally unjustified.