This is in many respects the most ironic of American holidays (with the possible exception of the orgy of consumption commemorating the birth of that preeminent anti-consumer, Jesus Christ). Established to honor those fallen in war, Memorial Day has become a signpost to the advent of the langorous season of summer, marked by such un-martial and non-sacrificial past-times as beachcombing and barbecuing. Certainly some have argued that these activities are among the blessings of liberty and prosperity for which American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have sacrificed. But that’s too easy a rationalization, much like George W. Bush’s injunction after 9/11 that Americans could best fight terrorism by shopping and traveling.Many of us have reason on Memorial Day to remember family members of the distant or recent past who have died in combat. And all of us should spend at least a few moments thinking about the countless, often nameless young men (and increasingly, young women) who were sent into the shadow of the Valley of Death on our behalf, and never came back.But we should also think about the responsibility we have as citizens to make such journeys uneccesary: to create a world where young people don’t have to go into strange lands and enter the ultimate lottery of random injury and death, usually at the hands of enemies they hardly see.Those of us who are indifferent to politics and civic life should reflect on the simple fact that virtually every war reflects the failure of politics and civic life; the breakdown of peaceful arrangements painfully developed over time; and the incompetence or ideological excesses of politicians on one or both sides of most wars.I won’t go into a long history of modern wars, but think about this:The deadliest war in American history was the Civil War, which was touched off not by impersonal forces or irrepressible socio-cultural conflicts, but by the self-absorbed idiocy of a few hotheads in South Carolina, drunk on the prose of Sir Walter Scott, who dragged their region and ultimately their country into a battle over the doomed and evil institution of slavery.And the deadliest World War (at least for combatants), World War I, was a maddeningly pointless war caused by the incompetence of politicians and diplomats who developed a pattern of alliances that gave a handful of Serbian nationalists and Austrian militarists the ability to pull five continents into the trenches.The great military strategist Clausewitz once memorably defined war as “politics continued by other means.” A better definition would be that war is the failure of politics continued by other means.So as we honor those who have died for America in good and ambiguous wars, for clear and hazy purposes, let’s remember this: we owe each and every one of our fallen heroes, and those we place in harm’s way today, a politics aimed at making these sacrifices less numerous, and at reducing the sway of homicidal folly in the politics of every country on earth. That may well mean a more active and even militant U.S. foreign policy. But it definitely means we must, in honor of our heroes past, present and future, remain vigilant against the folly that great superpowers so often embrace.
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.