As Sequester Kicks in, GOP’s Behavior Mimics North Korea’s to an Unnerving Degree
By Marc Belisle.
While signing a defense spending bill in 2004, George W. Bush declared, “Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.” Yes, you read that right.
This ludicrous slip, merely one bust in the interminable hall of Bushisms, was obviously not what he meant. It is beginning to prove strangely prescient, though, of what the Republican Party has become since he exited the stage. Within a very short time, co-star of the Axis of Evil, our ‘enemy’ North Korea, has tested rockets and threatened the US with nuclear apocalypse. Meanwhile, the GOP, democratically elected by ‘we’ the people, is threatening the US with economic armageddon in the form of the Sequester. Both problems are coming to a head right about… now.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has, over the years, painted itself into a corner. It is so thoroughly trapped in a rut of its own design that the only way it can gain any benefit on the world stage is by behaving badly and to blackmail the US into rewarding it for acting less bonkers. Though scary, anarchic and seemingly guano-crazy, there’s a method to North Korea’s madness. Its relationship with the United States is a reflection of its chaotic internal dynamics and hyper-narrow perception of its options.
That the DPRK has created this situation for itself shouldn’t surprise anyone. What is shocking, though, is that the GOP has painted itself into a similarly tiny corner, due also to its internal dynamics and views of its choices. And what is disturbing is that the GOP’s development within its trap reflects North Korea’s, its behavior closely mimics North Korea’s and the problem is accelerating.
The DPRK and the GOP are both propped up by an external source that does so for its own reasons. China supports, or tolerates, North Korea as a buffer against American influence on its border and to prevent a refugee crisis in Manchuria. Wall Street bankrolls GOP campaigns to use them as puppets to pursue its agenda of fewer regulations and to protect themselves from any liability in the criminal trading that blew up the economy in 2008, and whatever criminal trading is happening right now.
Kim Il Sung founded the Stalinist state. His legacy haunts North Korea incessantly, from the omnipresent propaganda and single-minded devotion to communism to the ruling dynasty of his seed. Similarly, Bush’s legacy is inescapable to the Republican Party. Bush intended to be a modern reinvention of Reaganism but was hijacked by the Neocons and left his party in total disarray. He came in with a bang and left with a whimper. Where grandfather Kim is the one who must never be forgotten, son Bush is the one who must never be remembered.
Il Sung’s departure left North Korea with his son, Jong Il, of Team America: World Police, fame. Jong Il presided over an era of escalating tension, using threats, blackmail and occasional aggression to get what he wanted. Jong Il ushered in North Korea’s strategy of approaching the world by hissing and snapping like a cornered snake. Bush’s departure left the GOP with the tri-cornered hats and the ‘don’t tread on me’ snake of the Tea Party. The Tea Party announced its presence by toting assault rifles and racially charged Obama-Joker signs to protests. Despite the drubbing it took in the 2012 elections, the Tea Party and its delusions that the world is closing in around them continue to hold the GOP in thrall.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea has become increasingly isolated. It has suffered utter economic collapse and ongoing famine. The GOP collapsed in 2006 when the public’s 9/11 hangover finally wore off. The public rebuked the moral horror of Bush’s foreign policy. Then in 2008, the economic collapse brought the public’s perception of the GOP down to a miserable place from which it has yet to rebound. As Isaac Newtown observed, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The twin political and economic collapse of the Bush Administration created the political space for both the equal reaction of the election of President Barack Hussein Obama and the opposite reaction of a Tea Party movement epitomized by the thought, morality and aesthetics of Hockey Mom Sarah Palin.
North Korea categorically refuses to modernize, open up or reform. Its only acknowledgement that anything beyond its borders even exists is to periodically threaten its neighbors with nuclear holocaust. The DPRK desperately clings to the status quo. The GOP is similarly trapped in a pattern of runaway gerrymandering, Tea Party extremism and a changing national electorate that rejects it. The Republican Party is unable or unwilling to deal with this reality. It approached the last election by vilifying the working class, inventing its own female anatomy, vaguely threatening to bomb Iran and scolding the country for not duly worshipping the rich. Republicans refuse to acknowledge the American zeitgeist because it doesn’t fit into their purist libertarian fantasy. It is unclear how the currently constructed GOP could ever win another national election. Yet, Citizens United and gerrymandering have superglued Republican House representatives to their seats. But they are unable to modulate their decisions because they are equally superglued to the most conservative positions possible. Any whiff of moderation and their blood-red districts will ‘primary’ them. The GOP is incapable of reforming itself.
The DPRK went through a succession a year ago, in which young Kim Jong Un took the throne. A moment of hope for changes flitted by. What change followed was merely window-dressing. The young dictator announced a new, young, pretty wife, demonstrating a little media-savvy that his father certainly lacked. He also shuffled around a few generals. But events have proven these changes were cosmetic at best. Similarly, following the last election there was a great deal of hope that the GOP would do some soul searching and change itself. Since Mitt Romney returned to his job of swimming in his money pit, the only change so far has been that Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio have gotten more air time. These are younger, handsomer faces with prettier words and gentler tones. But it’s the same message: the poor must pay the rich in the form of spending cuts and tax loopholes and the government should regulate big uterus but not big business.
Behind the scenes, both the DPRK and the GOP are desperate for attention. In North Korea, the ongoing famine is so intense, people may be resorting to cannibalism for nourishment. North Korea is desperate for attention from the outside world to give them the food they can’t provide their people. Meanwhile, since the election, the GOP’s propaganda operation Fox News is posting its worst viewership statistics since 2001. The average age of its viewers is now over 65. Maybe Shady Oaks retirement home is showing more Matlock reruns these days? The conservatives’ dominant radio hatemonger, Rush Limbaugh, is also sustaining a serious siege. A campaign to pinpoint Rush’s sponsors and threaten them with boycott is gathering considerable momentum, and has cost Rush’s company Clear Channel over $400 million since El Rushbo slut-shamed Sandra Fluke. The once mighty rightwing media empire is slipping beneath its rivals. Its target audience is beginning to tune out the constant outrage.
Internal pressures are bubbling within North Korea. The new dictator has trained legions of police in riot control, increased his personal security and launched “a large scale witch hunt.” Like his father, Jong Un perceives that he needs to keep the military busy, happy and guessing in order to maintain control. Similarly, a witch hunt is breaking out within the GOP. Karl Rove, the GOP’s Machiavellian Prince has launched a plan to purge Tea Partiers from power. A full-blown civil war between the pragmatists and the extremists is spilling out into full view of the public. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul gave dueling responses to Obama’s State of the Union, Rubio as a Republican, Paul as a Tea Partier. In theory, the Tea Party is a wing of the GOP. In practice, however, the Tea Party is increasingly becoming a narrower, more extreme and separate entity from the establishment. The GOP’s internal sniping also includes the CPAC snub of Chris Christie for having the temerity to thank President Obama for federal aid during Hurricane Sandy. It can be seen in Ted Cruz’s insane conservative radio-inspired grilling of fellow Republican Chuck Hagel who was ultimately approved as Defense Secretary.
All of the above dynamics set the stage for the current crises. Last year, North Korea tried to launch a ballistic rocket, which fizzled. In December the DPRK successfully launched a 3-stage rocket capable of hitting the West Coast of the United States. While North Korea threatens the US with physical destruction unless it gets the food aid it wants, the GOP strives to threaten the US with economic destruction unless it gets the spending cuts it wants. Republicans attempted to get spending cuts by dangling the country over the fiscal cliff. Instead, Obama got a tax increase from the rich, and John Boehner choked back tears. The GOP’s plan to blackmail America into slashing programs that benefit the poor and middle class fizzled on the launch pad. The Republicans then kicked the can on the Debt Ceiling, setting up the Sequester showdown. With automatic cuts set to savage the budget, the GOP finally had a device capable of exacting economic destruction on the country. They can now reach their 3-stage target of impoverishing the poor, melting down the middle class for parts and enriching the rich with the additional damage of a double dip recession.
Then in February, 2013, North Korea tested a nuclear warhead, which, unlike its previous tests, was a serious weapon. Though its exact yield isn’t clear, it was probably about as powerful as the bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima. While this is only a fraction of the power of the most powerful bombs in America’s arsenal, it nonetheless has the power to devastate a city. Similarly, in the Sequester, the GOP now have a weapon of economic devastation that they seem to have every intention of using against the United States. The Sequester is a serious threat because of how indiscriminate the cuts are. The Sequester will devastate American education. Around 10,000 teachers could be laid off nationwide, effecting around 7.4 million students. America’s global competitiveness will be seriously damaged in the long term. Children will pay the price for the GOP’s determination to exact a political price from Obama for getting reelected. America’s military preparedness will seriously suffer. The Sequester law that the Republicans want to go into effect dictates that everything in the Pentagon’s budget must be cut by precisely 9% without any consideration of priorities. No one knows exactly how this will play out, but it is certain to devastate Defense contractors and cause organizational chaos. The GOP, once the party of national security, is giddily swinging a chainsaw into America’s Defense. The Sequester targets Medicaid and food stamps for heavy cuts. The GOP will devastate the ability of many of the nation’s poor and elderly to get basic medicine and nourishment.
The DPRK blamed the US for the tension on the Korean peninsula, saying that the situation was becoming unpredictable because of “intensified US hostile policy.” Similarly, the GOP is blaming the Democrats for the situation the Republicans created. The Sequester was a deal, paid as ransom, when the GOP refused to raise America’s debt ceiling in 2011, which resulted in a US credit downgrade. Since then, the Sequester time bomb has been ticking away. The Democrats roundly won the last election, but the GOP is refusing to defuse the bomb. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham candidly revealed that the GOP’s plan is: “We’ll criticize everything he does. We’ll say, ‘Mr. President, it is now up to you to find this $85 billion in savings,’ and we’ll see it’s to make it easier for you, but every decision he’ll make, we’ll criticize. [sic]” At least 20 ranking Republicans are on record arguing how wonderful the Sequester is and how they refuse to negotiate about it. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman calls the Sequester “one of the worst policy ideas in our nation’s history.” Deficit hawk Erskine Bowles (of Simpson-Bowles fame) called the Sequester “stupid, stupid, stupid.” But Republicans refuse to negotiate with the president or the Democrats. The GOP refuses to issue a stay of execution, because President Obama wants spending cuts to be coupled with revenue raised from closing tax loopholes that enrich the very rich. The Republican party is dangling a nuclear warhead over the budget because they refuse to consider the possibility of asking billionaires to pay a little more taxes.
North Korea fears that the US is trying to destroy it when the opposite is true. The US, and all of North Korea’s neighbors, have a vested interest in keeping it alive. A precipitous collapse of the DPRK would ignite a nightmarish refugee ordeal in one of the most crowded corners of the planet. Similarly, the GOP fears that Obama wants to exacerbate the Republican collapse, a fear echoed by rightwing media. But according to Howard Fineman, the White House is trying to help the Republicans gain some coherence. “Obama … may need to try to save the GOP from itself. How is anyone’s guess, but that’s the situation. It’s ironic and unfair, but Obama’s task now may be to unsettle his own party as he attempts to salvage the GOP as a viable negotiating partner. ‘The Republicans think we are out to destroy them, but the opposite is true,’ one Obama insider told me. ‘We need somebody to talk to.’”
Both the DPRK and the GOP have painted themselves into a corner. Both are trapped in a cycle of extremism characterized by lashing out to get what they want. For both, this is a symptom of their internal dysfunction and inability to deal rationally with the world at large. North Korea points a nuclear bomb and the Republicans point a budget bomb at the people of the United States while both scream histrionic, delusional rhetoric. International security depends on the United States maneuvering North Korea into greater reasonability. Likewise, our country’s future economic wellbeing may well rest on the Democratic president Republicans love to hate saving Republicans from themselves. Because North Korea never stops thinking of ways to threaten our country and our people, and neither does the GOP.
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