When Speaker Boehner walked out of negotiations to raise the debt ceiling yet again, you could feel the breeze of Americans across the country collectively shake their heads in disbelief.
President Obama had brought entitlements to the table, something that his own party frowned upon. He had elevated the conversation to a longterm vision for sweeping cuts and deficit reduction. In short, he had done exactly what it seemed Republicans wanted.
So why had Boehner walked out? Because ultimately, what many in the Republican leadership want is not a sweeping, far-reaching deal. They actually want no deal at all because that would show a functioning government. And their real sweeping, longterm vision is making sure we have a government that doesn't work.
There's the near-term politics of it, of course. The Party of No has made clear since January, 2009, that it is not interested in compromising with the Obama Administration; it really just wants to obstruct. From its near-lockstep opposition to stimulus spending to healthcare reform to its successful efforts to kill discussions on immigration and climate change, Congressional Republicans did all they could to ensure that the change promised by the new president would be slow and stifled.
However, it would be foolish to see this only as a matter of gaining political advantage in the next election cycle (though that did work for them in 2010). The much deeper goal is to kill government as we know it. Grover Norquist, the prominent crusader against government services, famously said, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." That spirit animates the conservative leadership in Washington.
It's why they don't propose an alternative to healthcare reform; they simply seek to end it. They don't want a dynamic leader like Elizabeth Warren at the head of the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they don't want the government to be effective in policing Wall Street. They are giddy when the stimulus efforts stumble because it helps their argument that government needs to stay out of business. And their only proactive proposal -- Medicare reform - is about taking a successful, popular government program -- and gutting it.
In fairness, I don't think this is necessarily mean-spirited. For many conservatives, it's based in a genuine belief that we need less government. It's why many state legislatures are part-time or only meet on alternate years: to prevent them from doing too much. Sadly, it's out of touch with the reality of our 21st century economy and with the needs of our planet.
Public resources are required to fight diseases and prevent epidemics, which become dangerously more viral in our globalized community.
Environmental dangers don't respect state boundaries and demand federal action. The creation of the internet only happened because government action marshaled the intelligence, creativity and capital to invest in it. In the conservative utopia, government would fail at all of these.
And we can see what that fantasy looks like in Minnesota where the rigid refusal to negotiate on a budget has led to a government shutdown of all but emergency services. While the most visible first victims of this impasse where families seeking to enjoy state parks over the holiday weekend, as the shutdown drags on, more services are affected. It's hurting the state's business community. It's taking a toll on roads. It's endangering environmental reviews. In short, when the government isn't working, the state itself isn't able to work.
The Minnesota stalemate isn't that different from the one in Washington. When you have two sides negotiating for a functional government, it's one conversation. But when one side seeks political gains and ideological satisfaction by negotiating against functional government, it's a whole different story.
Hopefully, President Obama tells a narrative of his own: one about government programs like Social Security that function as they are supposed to; about problems that individuals and states can't solve on their own; about common goals that deserve the attention of our shared resources. Because that story won't just prevail in this negotiation, but is essential for engaging the public in pushing our elected officials to be the government we deserve.
<p><em>Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."</em></p>