Did you notice? The federal government returned to work. You could tell the shutdown duel was over when that weirdly waxy-looking guy with the orange tan and hang-dog beagle face—you know, the one who always looks like he's about to burst into tears—relinquished his pistol to the smirking, mummified senator from Nevada.
And thence did the hurtling imperial limousine turn away from the economic precipice at the last moment, just before plummeting into a tar pit from which it would not likely have ever escaped. The limo is being searched for mind-altering substances, and its Tea Party back-seat drivers have been pulled from the vehicle and taken downtown for a battery of tests. (Better to take them to the woodshed for tests by battery, but with any luck, this too may yet come to pass.)
What could have caused such mania? Meth? Bath salts? A devastating outbreak of unsightly blemishes?
While the Tea-gun may no longer be pointed at the head of the hostage that is our economy (i.e., the global economy), I'd like to make the point that the hostage is still bleeding profusely from the "sequester"—or, more descriptively, the "Teaquester."
You remember that little budget-cutting gambit, right? It's the exercise in spiteful auto-nose-removal that's destroyed hundreds of thousands of well-paying, family-rearing, apple-pie-baking, all-American JOBS; eroded the safety and integrity of our national infrastructure; and tarnished our national heritage, all in the name of, um ... "restoring America!" (Yeah, I know—I don't get it, either.)
Much was made of the national park system being shut down for a couple of weeks during the most recent Tea Tantrum, and this was indeed egregious, dealing a billion-dollar blow to the economies of many struggling communities and rural areas that rely on national parks as potent economic engines.
Sept. 28 was the 20th annual National Public Lands Day. Congress celebrated two days later by barring the public from visiting millions of acres of our national parklands and confronting taxpayers with yellow crime scene tape when we tried to use the facilities for a civilized pee in our national forests. (Sound familiar? It's the same mindless, budget-cutting zealotry that drove the Arizona Legislature to close the crappers along our highways.)
But the Teaquester—and the incredibly selfish, narrow, foolhardy worldview that supports it—is a far greater threat to our national heritage than the momentary brinksmanship of the shutdown. Teaquestration has accelerated the ongoing diminishment of "America's Best Idea" through staff cuts, reduced hours of operation, canceled educational and interpretive programs and systematic neglect.
Meanwhile—every day, all year long, shutdown or no—oil and gas vampires, timber termites and mining maggots are busily gouging, scraping, poisoning and generally draining the life from our public lands, greedily pursuing what they seem to believe is the highest and best calling for our national heritage: to be ground up into vast piles of easy-come, easy-go.
In Grand Canyon National Park—around which the slavering dogs of uranium extraction howl for profitable access to a radioactive poison that no one really needs—Teaquestration takes the form of a skeletal staff that cannot keep pace with dirty toilets, mounting trash, crumbling facilities and chronic breakdowns of the potable water system.
The Grand Canyon is a microcosm of Teaquestration's broader effects, as infrastructure, education, environmental protection, food safety and a host of other things that make us a civilized society disintegrate under the weight of Tea Party dogma.
Why, of course! In times of trouble, it's always best to dumb down the populace, let the excrement pile up and decrease the security of your food and water supply. Ruminating on the sort of kamikaze mentality that leads to such tawdry nonsense, a longtime Beltway cynic summed it up for me a few weeks ago: "Some people think freedom is shitting where you eat."
But, hey, there's a flimsy paper lining on every filthy toilet seat, right? I'm glad the Tea Party has finally graduated from Kabuki theater to actual hara-kiri. Their 15 minutes of fame should have ended a long time ago.
The question now is whether the vast damage done by the Tea-Toddlers will be healed. In this era of grandstanding, do-nothing politics, prospects seem dim.
I'd like to offer a different definition of freedom: Electing representatives who prioritize the seventh generation of their constituents above the seventh yacht of their corporate underwriters or the seventh seal of their apocalyptic dogma. I recommend keeping that definition in the back of your mind until November 2014.