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SPOTLIGHT
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America is captive to extremists

Published on -10/14/2013, 8:38 AM

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Welcome to America Held Hostage.

The reference is not just to the ongoing government shutdown that theoretically could be -- but in all likelihood won't be -- over by the time you read this. Rather, it is also to the intransigence and extremism of the Republican Party, a brand of government-by-crisis political thuggery that made this confrontation inevitable.

And not just the Republican Party but more specifically, that collection of cranks and outliers within the party so addled by hatred of the president, so crippled by the mental disorder known as Obama Dementia, that they are incapable of rationality and reason. They are the right wing of the right wing, a walking id so fully divorced from reality that even many of their fellow conservatives are wary -- and weary -- of them. And these are the people who are running the show.

God bless us, every one.

This latest in a series of manufactured crises centers on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's landmark health-care reform. It may be a good law, may be a bad law, may be (and probably is) a good law with some flaws, but one thing is certain: it is a law. Duly passed by Congress, duly signed by a duly elected president, it has survived no less than 41 votes by congressional Republicans to weaken or repeal it -- not to mention a showdown in the Supreme Court. No law in modern memory has been more thoroughly or energetically challenged.

Having failed epically and repeatedly to kill it, these right-wing Ahabs now embark upon an extortionate new tack that, even for them, is astonishing in its disingenuous gall. They have blocked passage of a routine resolution to fund the government unless the health-care act is defunded. Then they condemn the president because he won't "negotiate" with them.

It's as if a Little League team lost a big game on a critical call. They complain to the umps, they look at the instant replay, they file an appeal with the league, but the call still stands. So they take the ball and go home and say they will not play again until the other team agrees to "negotiate."

What a crock. In that scenario as in this one, there is nothing to talk about. The problem isn't the fairness of the process, but the inability of losers to accept the loss.

Once upon a time, a parent might have addressed the problem of children behaving like brats through the vigorous application of leather to the region of the gluteus maximus. Once upon a time, a voter might have addressed the problem of politicians behaving like brats in much the same way.

But the ability to spank legislators is largely lost. The reason in a word: gerrymandering -- voting district lines drawn to insulate legislators from voters with contrary viewpoints. Lawmakers choose their own voters, are answerable only to those true believers who already agree with them. It is a system guaranteed to reward extremism and make punishing it nearly impossible.

When you cannot "throw the bums out" (congressional incumbents are re-elected at a dictatorship rate: 90 percent), the bums are free to be as splenetic as they want to be. There is no pressure to be a statesman. Indeed, statesmanship becomes a liability.

The system must be fixed. Districts should be drawn by judges or other nonpartisan entities along sensible geographic and demographic lines. No more of these crazy-shaped districts that look like Plastic Man eating spaghetti on a rollercoaster.

The stakes could hardly be higher. The full faith and credit of the United States are at risk. Yet the right wing of the right wing engages in petulance, pettiness and pique that would embarrass a 4 year old. They will have things their way -- or they will shoot the hostage.

These people seem not to understand that elections have consequences. Unfortunately for this country, obstructionism does, too.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist

for the Miami Herald.

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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