Think of this as Volume 17, Number 39 of the newsletter I have written weekly since March, 1997. Enjoy.
History tells us that the results at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which came in July, sealed the South's fate. But that wasn't the way people looked at it at the time.
That's because the South believed so strongly in their general, Robert E. “Bobby” Lee. They believed he could keep the North bleeding until it cried uncle, until a new leader like George McClellan took over and sued for peace. They saw the draft riots in New York as a sign of things to come.
History shows they were wrong about the North and it should show they were wrong about Lee. The same Lee who won at Chancellorsville by dividing his army multiple times in the face of superior force threw George Pickett's division into the fire at Gettysburg. That should have ended the war, except Union general George Meade refused to follow-up, which is why Lincoln eventually called for U.S. Grant. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William Tecumseh Sherman, gave Lee the war of attrition he could not answer.
I write all this because they're at it again. Who's Bobby Lee now? Ted Cruz is Bobby Lee now.
The current crisis, which began with the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, has been unique in American history for its lack of casualties. Vietnam, the Great Depression, the Civil War, and even the industrial actions of the Progressive Era left real casualties, war dead. Our present crisis hasn't done that. And so the people who cover it and the forces that are driving it think nothing has really changed, that the present gridlock is some sort of “business as usual.”
It's not. When the basic functioning of our system of government breaks down, that's not business as usual. That's a crisis. And make now mistake – our system is broken. The judicial system has slowed to a crawl because there aren't enough judges. Piracy has become a business model because there are no cops around to stop it. Kids are going hungry for lack of food stamps.
The most remarkable achievement of the Obama Administration so far is that most of these things have gone unremarked. The human costs of the present crisis have been buried, kept out of sight, leading some to believe they don't exist, and won't exist if the crisis is pressed further.
The biggest mistake of the Administration was approving a bill earlier this year to exempt air traffic controllers from the sequester. The loss of air traffic control inconvenienced Congressmen and Senators, so it was removed in the spirit of comity, but that only emboldened those on the other side. Since they weren't noticing the sequester, it didn't exist.
The damage from the sequester has been hidden, and the assumption is the President will find ways to hide the impact of the government shut-down, even a refusal to raise the debt ceiling. Henry Blodget feels Republicans are emboldened by these actions, thinking that it's only those parts of the government that serve Democrats that are being shut down. He's right.
The same sort of things have happened in past crises, only they came sooner. President Lincoln gave Grant and Sherman their orders to create “all hell” in the Confederacy by late 1863 – that would have been 2011 by our time scale. William McKinley let the internationalist progressives within his coalition get their war on in 1898, 2010 by our time scale, undercutting the conservative populists for good and all. By this point in Nixon's term we were deep in Watergate, the crisis of Vietnam having been effectively dealt with.
What's happening now is, to me, most analogous with what FDR faced, because the Great Depression wasn't the real crisis of the 1930s, Hitler was the crisis. In 1937 it was still considered reasonable for a Republican businessman like Tom Watson of IBM to sell punch card machines to Germany, or Henry Ford to accept a medal from Hitler, or Charles Lindbergh to visit Germany and praise its leaders. Much of this history was buried in the conflagration that followed, but in 1937 Roosevelt was forced to retreat before these forces, setting in motion the “little depression” that made Republicans more powerful in 1938 and slowed our march to the inevitable conflict, making it more deadly. That, in fact, is the verdict of Republican historians – it's the verdict of Ted Cruz.
Appeasement helps no one. Obama's retreats are making him less popular, even though he's succeeding on the issue that his opponents claim matters, the deficit.
Every crisis President is important. Not every crisis President is successful. Their success is measured by their willingness to eventually confront the real crisis they face. Regardless of the casualties.
The only way the crisis can be brought to a head is for the President to change course. Instead of hiding the impact of sequester and shut-down, as his friends urge and his enemies expect, the President should be doubling-down on those impacts, deliberately inconveniencing the programs the right wing depends on.
Don't sent out farm subsidy checks. Stop negotiating trade agreements. Close some military hospitals. Put defense workers on furlough. Stop delivering Wall Street those numbers it depends on, like unemployment numbers and others involving economic activity, until the crisis is over.
And when the debt ceiling hits, stop paying the bills.
State, clearly, that either Congress does its job or the work of the government stops. It's the only way to get the message through to the confederacy and its Wall Street co-conspirators that the work of the government is serious work, work that has to be done. Stop doing the work and bring the casualties to their front doors. When the press gang howls, simply point down the street to Congress. When they claim that it could be done “more easily,” say that day is past, that “easily” was used and abused by the right just as every other effort to come to an accomodation was.
The Tea Party wants war. Give them war. War, which is all hell, will break them, because they can't handle war. They can talk war, but they can't handle it. Call their bluff.
Only after this crisis is over can we start the work that lays before it. We can't address the climate crisis without a government that's willing to engage. We can't address inequality without a government that's able to engage. We can't begin the process of reforming our electoral process, getting rid of gerrymandering, until we have a government that's willing and able to engage on a fundamental level.
All this requires that the present crisis be brought to a head. It requires the appointment of a U.S. Grant. It requires getting our political war on. It requires Lend Lease, and a draft. It requires confrontration, a modern equivalent of the Southern Strategy.
No crisis President, so far, has failed this test. No crisis President has failed, when pushed to the war, failed to respond. This one won't either. It's only a question of when he decides enough is enough, and that it's time to go to political war.