It's a political perfect storm: The pairing of a government shutdown with the rollout of a big chunk of the health care law is illustrating all sorts of partisan and cultural tensions that are roiling America. Big government vs. small. The Republican Party's identity crisis. Sharpening political divisions among Americans. And plenty more. Dueling images of the government powering itself down just as Americans for the first time are logging on to Obamacare's new health-insurance exchanges bring into high relief a debate that Americans have been having since the birth of the nation. How much government do we really need? How much is too much?
The Founding Fathers rejected the tyranny of kings and apportioned powers among Congress, the states, the executive and the courts in a balance that Americans of diverse beliefs have argued over ever since. Ronald Reagan famously declared government the problem, not the solution — then added to its size. Bill Clinton announced the end of the era of big government — and pared it back. Barack Obama won election — twice — holding out the promise of an activist government that could do so much more for its citizens.
Now, Republicans have turned Obamacare into a political metaphor for what they hold out as the heavy hand of Washington. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said people in his state are telling him that if shutting things down "is the only way to stop the runaway train called the federal government, then we're willing to try it."
Others question whether it's a fair fight.
Sure, there's a huge clash between Republicans and Democrats unfolding in Washington. But the more interesting struggle is playing out within the Republican Party, whose tea party contingent is forcing even conservative members to tack ever farther right and making it harder for Congress to find common ground on all sorts of big problems — not just the budget.
House Speaker John Boehner was reluctant to provoke a shutdown but ultimately bowed to...
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