In politics, as in the circus world, a fire-eater is a performer who will swallow fire to attract a crowd and earn a living. This aptly describes the tawdry crowd of grand-standing Republicans threatening to shut down the federal government today.
Their behavior resembles nothing so strongly as that of radical pro-slavery men, who, before the Civil War, threatened angrily to secede from the Union whenever the federal government wasn’t going their way. Antebellum fire-eaters pretended to be great patriots and high-minded constitutionalists while actually serving the retrograde interests of a minority.
So it is with today’s right-wing Republicans, whose aversion to President Obama and health-care reform is so intense as to drive them along a reckless and self-defeating course. Ted Cruz is, if anything, more self-serving and sophomoric than leading pro-slavery apologists–men such as William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama or Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina–whose parochial defense of slave-holding and states’ rights marred careers as distinguished as any in their day. In the end, these men could not love the United States more than they loved holding slaves, leading them to sacrifice true patriotism to an ignoble cause.
By now it has dawned on many Americans that those in Congress intent on derailing Obamacare at all costs are more like demagogues than patriots. In their stubborn attempt to thwart the inclinations of a national majority, stand in the way of progress, and sabotage the federal government, Cruz and his ilk recall the secessionists whose noblest vision was to arouse local populations to follow them. Intent on justifying their contempt of the federal government with high-toned ideas, the first fire-eaters used every conceivable means they could to oppose the federal government and the will of the majority, ultimately succeeding in persuading their fellow-citizens to withdraw from the Union and take up arms.
So it is with the current Republican spoilers, laboring unceasingly to deprive Americans of access to the new ACA-mandated health-insurance plans. Don’t they realize that most Americans are tired of extremism, tired of factions intent only on undoing? Republican fire-eaters would be better off quitting the circus and getting down to the sober, un-sensational business of governing.
Image: A 1900 political cartoon from Puck showing various American political types, including the fire-eater at right, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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