By threatening to bring down the Republic unless their non-negotiable demands on spending and the deficit are met, today's House Republicans show once again why the greatest accomplishment of the Founding Fathers was their foresight in separating Church from State.
It was not that the Founders were anti-Christian or even anti-religious. Most were devout, as religious conservatives correctly contend today.
But as close students of history and the failure of previous experiments in popular government, the Founders understood that religious sectarianism had embroiled far too many societies in civil wars in the past, and that religion must always be counted among those sources of faction which have, as James Madison put it, "divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."
More important: the rigid hold which ideology, faith and superstition have on the imagination and free will of disciples makes conformity to such belief systems ill-suited for the flexibility of mind and spirit demanded by the discipline of governing a complex democracy like this one.
For at the end of the day in a pluralist society like America's, how a political party thinks is more important than what it thinks.
And more and more, the no-tax-no-way militant acolytes who make up the Republican House Tea Party Caucus reveal themselves to be radically unfit for democratic governing by their unyielding embrace of a belief system that is progressively impervious to logic, reason, or even their own party's recent history.
That is the shocking realization which seems to have finally overwhelmed establishment Republicans and responsible conservative voices who now see that half or more of House Republicans have minds so hermetically sealed by dogmatism that there may be no way to break through in order to impress upon them the urgency of the moment.
Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, who I've known for more than 25 years since the time we both covered the Massachusetts State Legislature back when Mike Dukakis was Governor, writes today about the corrosive effect that Republican repetition of falsehoods has upon the perception and appreciation of truth, much like the erosion of rock as it succumbs to the steady drip, drip, drip of water falling century after century.
Such are the immovable certitudes of Republicans like Majority Leader Eric Cantor as they mindlessly repeat the same baseless assertions, such as: "Washington doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem," writes Lehigh.
Cantor's assertions fly in the face of fiscal experts who say that both overspending and tax cuts "fueled our budgetary woes," says Lehigh.
As proof, Lehigh cites the nonpartisan Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and even the conservative Heritage Foundation, which admits that "spending alone didn't lead to the deterioration in our fiscal position."
Further, the AEI recommends accomplishing 85% of the deficit reduction on the spending side, but doing 15% on the revenue side through a 2.5% payroll tax on all earned income, says Lehigh. Yet, Cantor continues to insist that "the data shows that efforts focused almost entirely on spending reductions are far more likely to produce meaningful consolidations than those that focus on increasing taxes.''
Just so we're straight, says Lehigh, "the principal document Cantor's office produced to backstop his cuts-only approach actually calls for more revenues." Dogmatism unmoved by fact "doesn't get much more revealing than that," writes Lehigh.
Neither am I surprised that right wing Republicans have little trouble overcoming the cognitive dissonance of revering the image of Ronald Reagan while simultaneously rejecting his actual record. The mystic cords of memory, as Lincoln once described our connection with history, are both mystical, and selective, for a reason.
Today, Democrats are delighting in hoisting Republicans on the petard of their idolatry for Ronald Reagan as they circulate audio recordings of The Great Communicator excoriating Congress for all the catastrophic things that will happen if Congress refuses to pay the nation's bills by raising the debt ceiling.
"Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility," Reagan says in the clip. "This brinksmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations."
Nobody can know for certain where Reagan would stand in the current stand-off on the debt limit, says the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. But it's a fair bet that since Reagan presided over 18 debt ceiling increases himself he would tell the Tea Party to cut the crap and raise the damned debt ceiling. "But 100 years after Reagan's birth, it's clear that the Tea Party Republicans have little regard for the policies of the president they claim to venerate," says Milbank.
The "cut, cap and balance" legislation passed by Tea Party Republicans yesterday would cut government spending permanently to 18% of gross domestic product, while under Reagan federal spending was as high as 23.5% and never below 21.3%, writes Milbank.
Neither the Medicare expansion Reagan signed in 1988 nor the military buildup that conservatives credit with winning the Cold War would have survived the plan that was just passed by Ronald Reagan's Republican Party.
"No wonder Democrats on Tuesday were claiming the Republican icon as their own," writes Milbank.
Yet, has this collision with the reality of the Reagan record induced Republicans to rethink for one moment what Milbank calls their "ritual praise of Reagan" during the debt-limit fight? Of course not.
"Half a century after he left the party, the Gipper is winning one for the Democrats," quips Milbank.
Conservatives like to portray themselves as innocent victims of liberal intolerance who are forced to suffer the torment of martyrs, sacrificing for their under-appreciated right wing points of view.
But it's not the conservative's ideas that liberals find so loathsome, necessarily, but how they got them in the first place and why they won't let them go in the face of overwhelming evidence those ideas are misguided and that conservatives themselves are misinformed.