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INDIANAPOLIS — The guy wasn’t happy.
We were standing on the sideline of our sons’ youth football game. He said that his boy had been scheduled to take a school trip to Washington, D.C., during the coming week.
“But they had to cancel the trip because of the government shutdown,” he said. “The kids are disappointed. Some of the parents had scheduled time off work so they could help with the trip. All of that effort wasted because they can’t do their jobs.”
By “they,” he meant members of Congress.
I suspect that conversations like that one are taking place all over Indiana and America right now. When Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives forced a government shutdown as part of their ongoing attempt to defund or otherwise derail President Barack Obama’s health care reform package, they raised the stakes on what already has been an ugly and wounding political battle.
It could backfire on the GOP in a big way.
The guy I talked with at the 50-yard line was a Republican and didn’t much like Obamacare. But he recognized what most Hoosiers and most Americans who don’t belong to conservatism’s far right wing realize.
Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld it. Republicans made overturning Obamacare a central point of the 2012 presidential campaign. They lost.
“That fight’s over,” the guy said. “It’s time to get on with other business.”
Much of America agrees with him. One poll taken on the eve of the shutdown shows that only 17 percent of Americans approve of the job House Republicans are doing. That’s a record low point for the GOP in that poll.
Indeed, the historical evidence suggests that there really isn’t a way for the House GOP to come out of this without incurring major damage. When Republicans last shut down the federal government in the 1990s, they began from a point at which they were the dominant party and had President Bill Clinton on the ropes. The public revulsion at their attempt to hold both the government and the economy hostage to their demands was so strong that it propelled Clinton to a landslide victory in the 1996 presidential campaign.
Closer to home, Hoosier voters were so angry about the way Democrats in the Indiana House of Representatives bolted the state and shut down much of state government two years ago that they gave the GOP a supermajority in the 2012 election. Now, Democrats in the Indiana General Assembly pretty much have to raise their hands and ask Republicans for a hall pass any time they want to move around the Statehouse.
The consequences for Republicans in the U.S. House could be even more severe. The list of people and groups who could be hurt by the shutdown — among them veterans and small-
business owners — include Americans who tend to vote Republican and are bound to feel betrayed by the GOP’s lack of concern for their problems.
Worse, it could call their basic approach to governance into question. Over the past decade, in an effort to promote greater efficiency, Republicans pushed for the federal government to enter into agreements with private contractors to provide some government services. Many of those contracts have significant penalties for late payment, so this shutdown could end up costing us as much as three times what the last one did.
Why are the House Republicans and their tea party cheering section doing this? Why are they risking alienating the guy on the sideline at the football game, veterans, small-business owners and more than 80 percent of the American public?
Many tea party conservatives keep coming back to the same refrain. They say, over and over again, that they want to “take back our country.”
Take it back from what? The president duly elected by a majority of the voters, not once but twice? Or do they want to dispense with a form of self-
government that has served us well as a nation for more than two centuries?
I don’t think this battle is just about health care. There is something about this president — his race, his “otherness” in many ways — that so profoundly frightens some conservatives that they’re willing to try to overturn national elections, risk wrecking the economy, alienate key constituencies and betray some of their own core principles just to fight him.
Their position isn’t rational, but fear generally isn’t subject to reason.
And they are frightened. Very frightened.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI -90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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