Bewildering! That's a friend's summary comment on the little-understood government shutdown that occurred simultaneously with opening of health insurance exchanges on October 1 in accordance with the Affordable Care Act - dubbed 'Obamacare' by Republicans.
For those observing the US government and Constitution in action, it may indeed be bewildering. The fog of misunderstanding that engulfs this bizarre display of governance is amplified by consistent unashamed and unapologetic lying by Tea Party Republicans, right-wing advocacy groups, including Fox News and the influential talk-show host some Democrats refer to as leader of the Republican party, Rush Limbaugh.
It has always bothered me: Why is it one can't make blatantly false statements about Procter and Gamble products for fear of an expensive lawsuit and adverse judgment, yet one is allowed to propagate any lie in pursuit of political objectives?
My guess: free speech in commerce must be distinguished from its counterpart in the loftier sphere of politics and governance.
It's not surprising when usually factually accurate and analytically sound BBC World Service commentator from Asia spoke of Singapore and Hong Kong as normally running budget surpluses, implying the US budget deficit was the true cause of the shutdown. Nothing could be further from the truth.
US budget deficits generally tend to fall when the presidency is held by a Democrat. Reagan increased the deficit; Clinton left a big surplus, George W. Bush dissipated that in tax cuts, two credit card wars, plus his exhortation to the people to go to the mall! Now Obama is reducing the deficit, health insurance and health-care costs are at their lowest levels in decades.
So, why bewilderment and why are BBC news commentators seemingly confused by dodgy statistical claims? Actually, this is not an unexpected result. From the time of its passage into law, the Republican party, particularly its Tea Party wing, has been completely opposed to the idea of Obamacare. Although it is the law, was a major policy disagreement in the 2012 presidential election that the people approved by their vote for Obama, was challenged and subsequently upheld by the US Supreme court, Republicans who control the House of Representatives since 2010 have voted to repeal the law no less than 41 times.
Ironically, implementing the law doesn't require passage of the budget bill. Yet Republican Ted Cruz hijacked the process, holding the budget hostage to a plan to defund or delay Obamacare.
Truth is, the plan to shut down the government wasn't hatched in the past two weeks. It was promised before the 2010 November election by Tea Party stalwarts. Representative Todd Rokita says: "We just want to help the American people get by and through one of the most insidious laws ever created by man!"
Rokita is describing a law that brings in excess of 30 million citizens closer to accessing health insurance, in a country where an illness or accident can, and often does, lead to bankruptcy! Incredible, isn't it? Truly unbelievable.
To explain such attitudes and subsequent behaviours, we must unscramble a virtual kaleidoscope bequeathed by the US's peculiar history. Many are the ironies and untenable double standards this 'fight to defund Obamacare' uncovers.
Mechanisms at work delivering this outcome are many. First among them though, is the troubled history of slavery, racism and attitudes to the ascension to the presidency of a black man, Barack Obama - who, incidentally, must be viewed as biracial if we want to be true to the biological facts.
The second enabling and determining factor is the unique US Constitution, which allows for divided government that can work to its finest capacity only with compromise; negotiations and concessions generated by respect both for the Constitution itself and one's opponents - the other side, the opposing benches. Finally, and not least in importance, there's ideology.
Tea Party Republicans in 'red' states - states that consistently vote Republican - have never accepted that Obama is legitimately president of the US. The 'birther' movement claims he's foreign-born and a Muslim. Just days ago, former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich, charged that Obama does not 'act like an American'.
Republicans invoke 'dog whistle' words, metaphor and language to depict lazy 'negroes' 'shucking and jiving' - Obama is the greatest food-stamp president. GOP leader Mitch McConnell was candid: their first priority on winning the House of Representatives was to make Obama a one-term president. Ted Cruz was also inadvertently candid: once people begin to see the benefits from Obamacare, that's it. It can't be withdrawn.
Constitutionally, both houses must approve the budget — after the fact of approving and incurring expenditure. This is like defaulting on one's credit-card debt or mortgage for the purpose of implementing an agenda the electorate rejected. Obama calls it hostage taking.
What now? No one knows how long the impasse shall last. But it has severe consequences for the US economy, a still-fragile economic recovery and obviously, if it lasts much longer, negative impacts on the world economy.
Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve is committed to the quantitative easing as stopgap. The last time an impasse of this type occurred, the US lost its pristine credit rating at a cost of billions. More anon.
Wilberne Persaud, an economist, currently works on impacts of technology change on business and society, including capital solutions for innovative Caribbean SMEs.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org