“I came in like a wrecking ball
Yeah, I just closed my eyes and swung
Left me crashing in a blazing fall”
Do these lyrics remind you of a political party? They certainly should. Miley Cyrus’s pop single “Wrecking Ball” is probably the best description of the recent antics of Tea Party Republicans in the House we’re ever going to get. Where mainstream journalists failed, the lyricists of Miley’s song succeeded.
Did you notice how mainstream-media commentators twisted themselves into knots during the sixteen days of the government shutdown, searching for so-called balanced, mostly non-confrontational, words to describe what the marauding Tea Partiers had wrought? The lost wages, lowered consumer confidence, postponed medical trials, interruption of scientific studies, doubt about the stability of the American economy and political system. And worst of all—the undermining of trust in the instruments of democracy. Well, step aside, talking heads, Miley’s three lines capture the craziness better than any long-winded punditry you could possibly summon.
Therefore, in recognition of their prescience, I hereby nominate the composers of “Wrecking Ball” for a special Grammy for capturing perfectly the twisted and destructive fallout of the Tea Party’s government shutdown.
Is it far-fetched to link a self-destructive pop star and Tea Partiers in the House? Think about it. They have a lot in common. Self-delusion and a penchant for juvenile stunts. Creative derangement and the urge for reckless spectacle. Miley strains to hold our attention with one fleshy facial part – her tongue. Tea Party Republicans choose another, thumbing their noses at the conventions of our democratic institutions.
And what was all this swinging of ball and chain actually about? Was it motivated solely by animus toward the Affordable Care Act—a good faith effort to reign in healthcare costs and make it possible for millions of the uninsured to obtain insurance? Or was it motivated by even darker, more cynical motives to swing the sledgehammer and shatter the presidency of the first black man to reside in the White House? In truth, it appears that the wrecking was an angry spasm that started with nothing and ended by accomplishing nothing.
Nothing, however, does not describe the collateral damage.
$24 billion. That’s right, fiscal-conservative charlatans, that’s what Standard & Poor’s Index says you cost us in just sixteen days. How about giving that number some context? How about looking at how that pile of wasted cash could have been spent to benefit the American people, instead of, as Senator Elizabeth Warren put it so delicately, “flushing it” away?
The flu season provides a good test case. That $24 billion could have immunized every man, woman, and child in the U.S. for two consecutive seasons, potentially preventing the roughly $87.1 billion that is taken out of the U.S. economy annually as a result of lost work days due to influenza.
To take stock of the full extent of the damage, however, you’ve got to dig down deep into the rubble. Nearly one million federal employees were furloughed during the shutdown. It’s true that federal employees will be receiving back pay for their sixteen furloughed days. But what about private contractors? “Well, too bad, buddy,” is what Republicans might say.
(Do you recall which party pushed privatization of government functions? You bet the answer is the same Republicans who have now snatched the wages out of the pockets of working people who are employed by private companies providing essential services to the federal government.)
Some of the most far-reaching effects of the sixteen-day shutdown will be felt by the scientific community, which depends on consistent, long-term data gathering. Remember, this is the same scientific community that is already reeling from the effects of deep budget cuts mandated by the sequester.
During the sixteen-day shutdown, The National Institutes of Health reported that new enrollment in clinical trials slowed to a crawl. In a typical week, two hundred new patients enter potentially live-saving trials. In the first week of the shutdown, only twelve new patients, many in danger of dying, were admitted to trials. What do you say to parents of a child who desperately needs to participate in a clinical trial and who has now lost two weeks of potentially life-saving measures? Perhaps we should ask Senator Cruz and his buddies to give us an answer to that one.
The Food and Drug Administration furloughed half its staff, curbing its ability to monitor and prevent food-borne illnesses. Delays in grant approvals for scientists working in government and at private institutions in multiple fields may result in interruptions to long-term data collection, disassembling experiments, or not starting new studies at all.
So here’s to you, Tea Party House Republicans. Go and have your non-victory victory party. Take a few wild turns round the dance floor but then stop and listen to Miley’s final words:
“All you ever did was wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me
Yeah, you, you wreck me”