The government has been shut down for more than a week. It is still not clear when there is going to be a resolution. On October 17, the country’s debt ceiling would need to be raised. There is also no indication that the GOP is ready to do so. Therefore, the country could be plunged into an economic depression because a small faction in Congress is engaging in all-out effort to derail the Obama presidency.
The Republicans' attempt to undermine Barack Obama started on day one of his presidency. In a meeting after the 2008 election that included Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, and Eric Cantor, the current House majority leader, Republicans decided that they would obstruct the president at every turn. After getting control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm election, Republicans went even further. After supporting policies advocated by George Bush that turned budget surpluses into massive deficits, Republicans recast themselves as deficit hawks. Instead of proposing policies that would generate more jobs, they embraced austerity, which has created economic havoc in Europe.
Unsurprisingly, austerity has been detrimental to the U.S. economy. In past economic recoveries, the private sector and the government were the two main drivers of job creation. Under both Ronald Reagan and George Bush, job creation in the public sector was strong. Rather than creating more jobs, austerity has forced deep cuts in government spending, which resulted in job loss in the public sector under Obama. This lack of government jobs is one of the key reasons that the economic recovery is still sluggish. But it is clear that congressional Republicans have not been interested in doing more to quicken the pace of recovery, since the president might get too much credit.
In the wake of President Obama's reelection, one would have thought that Republicans would change their scorched-earth strategy since their nominee got trounced. But they chose to raise the stakes even higher. In an effort to force the president to acquiesce to the party's demand to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, the GOP has partially shut down the government. The country is still facing significant challenges. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, instead of asking what they could do to help the country tackle many of its problems, Republicans seem to keep asking themselves what they could do to damage the Obama presidency.
The congressional Republicans who are seeking to undermine the Obama presidency even at the cost of hurting the country are not renegades. Their strategy has strong support among the Republican base. The intensity of self-identified Republicans’ antipathy towards Obama has not abated during his years in office. The root of that antipathy is an unwillingness to recognize the legitimacy of the president. But why would Obama be an illegitimate president in the eyes of so many Republicans since he won two big electoral victories?
The answer is simple. For much of the Republican base, the president bears the taint of illegitimacy because of who he is, since Obama represents an America that it is alien to them. Furthermore, a majority of Republicans think that Obama was not even born in America. Consequently, the Republican base does not believe that those two major electoral wins conferred any legitimacy whatsoever upon the president. They regard a big chunk of the coalition that helped propel Obama to the presidency as a cultural Other. That is why they tend to perceive the increase in the minority population as a threat to the American way of life, and equally important, that is why Republicans seem to subscribe to the notion that they represent the real America.
The root of the political gridlock that has gripped Washington boils down to the following question: Who speaks for the American people? The Republican Party lost the popular votes five times in the last six presidential elections. Obama won the popular vote in the 2012 election by about five million votes. Yet Republicans seem secured in their belief that they speak for the American people rather than the twice-elected president. How could a party that won the popular vote only once in six straight elections convince itself that it represents the will of the people? Republicans apparently believe that their party is the tribune of real America since it enjoys greater support among white voters. Therefore, it does not matter that Obama won two presidential elections resoundingly. It does not matter that Obama is the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win more than 50% of the popular vote two times.
Republicans have been inflicted by a serious case of Obama Derangement Syndrome. The condition is even more debilitating among the Tea Party activists and the Tea Party caucus in Congress. For these two groups, their antipathy toward the president knows no bounds. They seem to regard the election of Obama as a deviation from the historical norm, which needs to be rectified by any means necessary. That is why Tea Party activists have proclaimed on numerous occasions that they “want to take their country back.” To that end, no action is too radical or outlandish even if it includes shutting down the government or worse yet, considering default, which would be an economic catastrophe. In effect, they appear to be willing to wreck the country in order to save it from the Kenyan-Muslim-socialist that occupies the White House. For the Tea Party, therefore, breaking bad in their attempt to rescue the nation from Obama is not a vice, but a virtue — even if such action ends up inflicting great harm to the country that they profess to love.