On Sunday, several hundred – or perhaps a couple of thousand – tea party activists, led by such luminaries of the right as Sarah Palin, Rep. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), hijacked a march organized by a non-partisan veterans’ group and held an angry demonstration at the National World War II Memorial against the shutdown that Cruz and Lee had engineered and tea partiers across the country had applauded. Anger and confusion about public parks and memorials – especially that one — closing with the rest of the government’s “nonessential services” have been staples of conservative blogs and talk-radio since the shutdown began.
There’s been plenty of coverage of the impressive hypocrisy of the event, the fact that one man waved a Confederate flag in front of the home of the first African-American president and that a prominent conservative activist who was invited to speak sputtered with rage that Barack Obama should “put the Qu’ran down” and surrender his office.
Those incidents should be called out, but focusing only on those offensive displays misses a more basic truth revealed on Sunday: the utter depravity of a major political movement up in arms and rallying around meaningless symbolism (the National Park Service was already letting vets into the memorial, just not other visitors) instead of the real-world harm they themselves inflicted on American families.
It’s a clarifying moment, reminiscent of the Republican primary debate in 2011 in which Wolf Blitzer asked Ron Paul what should happen if a healthy person foregoes health insurance and becomes critically ill: The audience enthusiastically endorsed the idea of just letting him die.
‘Let him die!’ became a symbol of the modern conservative movement’s lack of compassion for their fellow citizens. And Sunday’s march – really the whole freak-out over memorials and national parks – should too. More than a million federal workers aren’t receiving paychecks. Private contractors are “furloughing” their workers as well – and back pay doesn’t look likely – and the direct costs of the shutdown to the government are now approaching $5 billion. It’s caused a funding crisis in domestic violence shelters. The National Institutes of Health aren’t treating cancer patients enrolled in clinical trials. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention furloughing most of its workers, a salmonella outbreak has spread to 18 states, sickening almost 300 people. New veterans’ benefits claims aren’t being processed, and the supplemental nutritional assistance program for poor women and infants is running out of money.
As we enter the shutdown’s third week, the damage is spreading to the state level where, according to Bloomberg News, they are now beginning to lay off their own workers and cut services for the poor….
Michigan is preparing to put as many as 20,000 workers on unpaid leave and eliminate cash and food aid to the poor. North Carolina sent 366 employees home and closed its nutrition aid program to tens of thousands of women and children. Illinois this week may issue furloughs to hundreds of federally funded employees, including workplace safety inspectors.
The state-level fallout shows the widening impact of the first partial U.S. government shutdown since 1996…
And with all of this needless pain being inflicted, Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz have the nerve to act as demagogues regarding the closure of a war memorial. Their blithe indifference to real suffering is as plain as shouting, “let him die!”