Congress is more polarized than ever

Not since the last Congress before the Civil War has Washington appeared so dangerously polarized. From the Affordable Care Act to the debt ceiling, everything is at issue.

As with Southerners in 1859-1861, the urge to block legislation has become near obsessive. Obamacare resembles the Homestead Act and the attempt to fund land-grant colleges in the 19th century. If it’s new we’re against it has become a watchword for Republicans.

Sometimes one is tempted to compare the House of Representatives with the Confederate Congress which focused on personality and symbolism. “Pardon me” ran a letter from a constituent in 1863, “is the majority always drunk?” It’s a good bet they are not, but to worried citizens it has the appearance of being out of control.

For all the talk about the Constitution, it is a fight over turf. Republicans frustrated with nearly five years of President Barack Obama have yet again raised the temperature. There is a scary mood in Washington which have seen incendiaries rise to the fore; they vow to drag down the edifice of government and destroy the credit of the United States to prove a point. This is referred to commonly as fanaticism.

And this kind of talking may lead to rash action which responsible Republicans may want to avoid. John Boehner cravenly bends to every whim of his ultra-caucus, making compromise impossible. Even the Wall Street Journal has commented on its rigidity. Groups such as the Chamber of Commerce have warned about the perils of going too far.

If by chance the stock market goes into free fall, if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, what will the country say? Will Boehner try to explain it away, as if a hostage taken who blames everything on his captives? “Obama made me do it” will not be a satisfactory answer.

To prove a point at the expense of the nation places the Republican Party in a very difficult situation. To be seen as wild-eyed as bomb throwers or insurrectionists is to expose the GOP in a position of hating Obama more than they love the nation.

But it does not appear that Boehner will relent. Moral courage is not the strong suit of the Speaker. However, it has been his misfortune to deal with by-products of corporate money unleashed by Citizens United. They’re loyal to re-election in gerrymandered districts and to those valued friends who fund their campaigns and future ambitions. Like Rome they resemble private armies who respect only their pay masters. It has come to a pretty pass and it threatens the peace of the United States.

Certainly Republicans – from the impeachment of Clinton in 1998 to the almost bullying of the 2000 election, to the scurrilous accusations of the Obama years – are worried less about legislation than legacy. Fearing national trends do not favor them, they raise holy hell to see if they can change the tide of history.