That was no government shutdown. It was a long weekend. It was a snow day.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no fan of shuttering the federal government as a tactic of political negotiation. In the first place, it inflicts hardship on the people you’re sworn to serve. In the second place, it confirms the U.S. Capitol building as the world’s most majestic day care center.
Shutting down the government is almost always the wrong thing to do. But as my pastor likes to say, if you’re going to do wrong, at least do wrong right.
You, on the other hand, did wrong wrong, making yourselves look feckless, spineless and brainless in the process. You’d said you would not vote to fund the government until the GOP acted to save young immigrants brought illegally to this country as children — DREAMers — from deportation. Three days later, you folded like a baby stroller, accepting a deal in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed only his “intention” to take up the legislation you want.
Repeating for emphasis: his “intention.”
So suddenly, we’re supposed to buy that McConnell — the same McConnell who brazenly stole a Supreme Court seat from you — is a stand-up guy? Meantime, you’re out there trying to pass off this lump of congealed chicken fat as the Hope Diamond.
As in Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisting that because of the shutdown, you won “the potential for momentum.” CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin nearly sprained her jaw keeping a straight face.
Who can blame her? After all, the truth is closer to what GOP Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina told Politico: “We gave them nothing.” For that matter, it’s even closer to what Denzel Washington said in “Malcolm X”: “You been had! You been took! You been hoodwinked!”
Say what you will about them, but if you woke the average GOP lawmaker up at 2 a.m. and asked what he believes, he would spout, as if on a recorded loop, the anti-tax, anti-government, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, anti-black, anti-abortion creed so attractive to the mostly white, predominantly older and disproportionately male slice of the electorate that votes for them.
Could you do that? I think not.
Someone said on Twitter the other day that the Republicans are petrified of their base — and you are, too. There’s painful truth in that. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that you folded because you feared alienating voters in “conservative, largely white battleground states.” You often seem terrified of alienating voters who do not embrace you, while discounting those — such as immigrants, African Americans, LGBTQ and, yes, progressive whites — who do.
Got to dance with the one who brung ya, the saying goes. Yet you often seem intent on dancing with anyone but.
Frankly, you could stand to be more petrified of your own base — especially since the political left is having itself a moment unlike anything we’ve seen in almost 50 years. People are marching and raising money. Upstarts are running for office. The left is galvanized by a fierce new energy.
A few years ago, the far right rode a wave just like this — i.e., the tea party — into power. The GOP establishment never saw it coming. Will you?
I’m no political strategist, so I will not offer strategic advice. But I will note that strategy becomes easier once you settle in your own mind who you are, what you believe and what, exactly, you will fight for. Millions of us wonder.
Get back to us when you know.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.