, Newburyport, MA


October 12, 2013

Shribman: The upside of the shutdown


But disestablishmentarianism — a term rooted in 18th-century English church history, a stumper beloved by lexicological wise guys and a word I finally found a legitimate use for — became a bipartisan phenomenon a year ago when there were no adults to call a halt to the Republicans’ determination to endanger, if not doom, the inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney. His political death was assisted suicide.

Now there is no Washington Establishment to end the paralysis, which went from the fiscal cliff of New Year’s to the continuing resolution crisis of late September to the October hurricane of the debt ceiling.

Should we call in Bob Dole, who loved a deadlock? You must be kidding. In a shameful exhibition of disrespect, Republican senators let him sit in stunned mortification in his wheelchair in the chamber he once strode like a colossus rather than approve his treaty to assist the disabled. Give Bob Strauss a ring? The Democratic national chairman who was a Republican president’s choice as ambassador to the Soviet Union? Dream on.

The fact that one (Dole) is 90 and the other (Strauss) nearly 95 tells how antiquarian this notion is. And by the way, Lloyd Cutler has been dead for eight years, Clark Clifford for 15 and Dean Burch for 22.

-- Power sometimes resides outside elected office.

We are not speaking here of the people in whose interests Washington is supposed to work. We are speaking of unelected power brokers who, throughout American history, have exerted outsized influence.

In the past they have been figures like Jay Gould, whose analogues today are on Wall Street. Or church figures, like Jonathan Edwards of the Great Awakening, the New England-bred preachers of the Social Gospel, the abolitionist clergymen and their lineal descendants in the black church and rabbinate of the civil rights movement, or Father Charles Coughlin, the radio priest who turned on Franklin Roosevelt.

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