(CNN) — We had a process. Congress proposed, and the president disposed with his signature. A law then went on the books. Courts might be asked to test its constitutionality, but by surviving legal challenges, a measure became the settled law of the land, which was the case with Obamacare. The American legislative system was, in spite of the disturbing influence of big money, actually quite elegant. But now it is broken.
We have entered into an era of gunpoint government.
Americans have discovered that a tiny, radical minority can immobilize their entire country and hold it as still as a robbery victim staring at the barrel of a pointed gun. And regardless of how this might anger the majority, they must live with the fact that it can happen again.
And it likely will.
Political accommodation for the common good is not even a consideration. Shutting the country down is the only objective, with no purpose beyond political destruction and personal ambition. Any argument that the temporary closing of the U.S. federal government did not accomplish anything, in this scheme, therefore, is wrong.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and his acolytes of extremism have cracked the Republican Party into two dissimilar parts. The corpus of the moderate version survives with frailties and reduced numbers that make its national leadership improbable in the foreseeable future, while the tea party offspring of the GOP remain vital, as they have felt the blood rush of being a bully. But neither part of the Republican Party won a thing.
Except for the disdain of most Americans, and, possibly, much of the world.
Global leaders undoubtedly wonder why the United States thinks exporting its version of democracy is sane. Political recalcitrance over the American debt ceiling threatened to toss international markets into chaos simply because a small cabal of conservatives did not like a new law to provide health care to millions of people who cannot otherwise afford premiums. Politics or petulance? The anger of the few in the minority was never supposed to be able to stop the will of the majority.
The founders would be confounded.
Exasperation, however, has to be tempered by the painful knowledge that we the people elected these people. Cruz of Texas, who has become the de facto leader of the national GOP and appears to be shepherding his party into a burning building, won office by defeating his state’s lieutenant governor in a July runoff.
The Texas tea party is made joyful by Cruz’s exhortations, and in the obscure runoff 15 months ago, during the 100-plus-degree-burn of summer, they voted for him in big numbers, while moderates were hesitant to venture outdoors to even buy cold beer–or vote.
The defeated David Dewhurst, his rival, who is still in office, clearly envies the network TV lights cast upon the neophyte Texas senator and has begun a rank imitation with calls for the President’s impeachment. A reason hardly seems to matter. The inflammatory quote is what counts.
But if we live in a democracy, don’t we deserve what we have?
Politics now is the art of screaming louder than the other person and claiming principles that are so profound they are more important than the preservation of the union. The streak of anarchy that runs through the politics of Cruz and the tea party ought to frighten sober Americans. His ideological strain thrives on the notion that government should do little more than protect the borders, pave the roads and then get the hell out of our way.
Cruz is wrong, of course, and the obligations of liberty are considerably more complex. We might die to preserve our nation’s principles but most of us won’t kill our country to win an argument.
If Cruz knew from the outset he was in an unwinnable fight, what was he really doing? What did he want? The obvious conclusion was that he lusted for attention to build a reputation among the tea party activists, whom he wants to begin thinking of him as their presidential candidate for 2016. They voted in disproportionate numbers to get him into the U.S. Senate and he hopes to animate that political base across the country and ride their cheers to the GOP nomination.
Whether that happens is of considerably less importance to note than the fact that he was willing to jeopardize the lives and incomes of millions of Americans, along with global economies, simply to get cameras pointed in his direction. Is there any other conclusion?
Cruz thinks he can speak directly to the voters and rise without the help of the political infrastructure of his party. Such an unconventional strategy may be his only hope, because there are few left in the GOP who will offer him any respect. The public has watched in abject horror as one office holder has pressed history’s greatest democracy into a sausage grinder. And what has come out the other end is not immediately recognizable.
Our deliberative government was not designed to be hijacked by a few dissidents. But fanatics have found a way to pry open the cockpit door and demand course corrections that put everyone on board at risk. Because of this, we may have no choice but to rethink the very mechanics of how we create law and run the nation.
Cruz has at least done us the benefit of showing us that our system functions best as a platform for campaigning and getting re-elected and not for conducting the people’s business; not even the disgraced Richard Nixon created such jeopardy with his betrayal.
But it’s our fault. We cast the ballots and gave office to Cruz and his compatriots. The politically craven have taken up arms to stop the peoples’ business and the attention is intoxicating. They have no reason to put down their weapons. They like this game because now it only takes one person to storm the battlements that protect American democracy.
Teddy got his gun
Editor’s note: James C. Moore, a Texan, is a business consultant and partner at Big Bend Strategies, a business messaging firm. He is co-author of “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential” and a TV political analyst.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Moore.