In 1907, a young man in Chicago named Florenz Ziegfeld decided that his career path would be that of a show business producer. He started with a light and inexpensive song and dance revue, for the summer season in Chicago, with emphasis on holding costs down, since he had little capital to begin with. But not even Ziegfeld could have imagined the the momentous impact his creation would experience. It was a huge hit from the beginning, and soon Ziegfeld would attach his name to what became as the “Ziegfeld Follies.” As he acquired more money the show became a more lavish and opulent spectacle. By the 1920s, this extravaganza was the smash hit of Broadway. But what really made the “Ziegfeld Follies” such a mammoth event were its showgirls, a collection of eager dancers and chorus-line singers all wearing dazzling costumes. Ziegfeld advertised them as the most beautiful girls in the world. Many huge show biz stars, such as Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Gypsy Rose Lee, Josephine Baker, and Marilyn Miller got their career-starts in the “Ziegfeld Follies.” The show finally had to shut down in 1931 as the icy tentacles of the Great Depression were beginning to wrap themselves around the American economy and start plunging it into the deep freeze.
This is sort of a long way around to observing that the fiscal follies currently going on in our nation’s capitol, far exceed the extravaganzas put on by Flo Ziegfeld. Especially as it pertains to the theater of the absurd. As good a showman as Ziegfeld was, he couldn’t match the looney-tunes, dysfunctional antics currently underway in the U.S. Congress, even as we speak, (or write, as the case may be.) Two events explain this fascinating kerfuffle. The first is that the Government’s fiscal year ends September 30, a week from now. The Constitution has words to the effect that the Government cannot spend a farthing (or a nickel if you prefer) unless the funds are appropriated by an act of Congress. So far, Congress has appropriated nothing for the new fiscal year, about to start on October 1. The primary hold-up is in the House, where Republicans have a majority and are refusing to pass fiscal 2014 appropriations unless all funding for Obamacare, (the President’s signature universal healthcare legislation) is stripped from the appropriations bill. Of course, it’s pure fantasy that the Democratic majority in the Senate, or the President, will agree to such shenanigans and extortion. But House Republicans are adamant that no new funding will occur unless resources for Obamacare are deleted. Even if it means shutting down the Government with all its ensuing consequences. Like military and civilian Government personnel, contractors and debt-holders not getting paid. Like no new food stamps, or housing assistance or other benefits to the sick or poor being issued. You know, fun stuff like that.
Senate Republicans also refuse to miss out on these entertaining follies. Senators, led by the four horse of the tea-party apocalypse, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, whom I’ve written about before, are also threatening to filibuster any appropriations bill that contains funding for Obamacare. Please do not disturb the ivory tower of self-delusion these four choose to dwell in. So here we are, one-week away from a total Government shutdown, with all its disastrous consequences, that could very well send our fragile economy into a devastating tailspin. But as these follies gather momentum, they do make for excellent theater of the absurd. It should be pointed out, however, that we are the only country in the world, from first to fourth rate, that is willing to shut their Government down over budgetary battles. Not even the weakest or poorest banana republic would entertain such thoughts.
If, by some miracle we can avoid a a Government-shutdown through lack of appropriations legislation; shortly thereafter comes the debt-ceiling fiasco, as Congress lurches from one phony crises to another. The debt-ceiling, unlike the appropriations process, is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. Instead, in a fit of self-imposed masochism, Congress enacted legislation saying the Government cannot exceed an arbitrary debt-ceiling without Congressional approval. We are estimated to bump up against the current debt-ceiling around mid-October. Since we are borrowing about 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, it would seem rather imperative that Congress raise the debt-ceiling. If not, the Government once again shuts down. And once again, Congressional Republicans are holding the Government hostage, by refusing to raise the debt-ceiling unless all funding for Obamacare is erased. Since the Mafia has made blackmail and extortion so profitable, Republicans, I assume, figure, why not employ these same tactics.
Now we all know that Republican vitriol and hatred directed against Barack Obama, is almost legendary. To deprive the GOP out of 2 presidential election victories is unforgivable in most tea-party and Republican circles. To say nothing of the race issue that I won’t get into at this time. So what better way to seek revenge than depriving Obama of his signature legislated achievement. Plus they know that if Obamacare, flawed though it may be, is allowed to function for 2-3 years, it will become as popular as Medicare or Social Security. Then even the tea-party lunatics will not be able to advocate for its dissolution.
One other factor is in play. There is a whole group of far-far right-wing looney-tuners that would really like to see the Government shut down. The Rush Limbaugh/ Glen Beck/ Sean Hannity types with their millions of followers are practically frothing at the mouth, or drooling all over themselves, in anticipation of a Government shutdown. Instead of visions of sugar plums, such anarchists thrill at visions of such an event. Even Flo Ziegfeld, as good a showman as he was, would have hard time producing theater follies to match the current ongoing antics in our nation’s capitol.