Senator Says Politics Have Reached Civil War Levels

Sen. Tom Harkin to Congress: “We are at one of the most dangerous points in our history.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. talks about the fiscal cliff with reporters, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012.
National Journal
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Matt Berman
Sept. 27, 2013, 6:43 a.m.

As the clock ticks down to­ward a pos­sible gov­ern­ment shut­down, Sen. Tom Har­kin, D-Iowa, isn’t hold­ing back.

On the Sen­ate floor be­fore 10 a.m. Fri­day, the sen­at­or gave a speech de­scrib­ing how Amer­ic­an polit­ics have reached the level at which “a small group of will­ful men and wo­men who have a cer­tain ideo­logy” — read: the tea party and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — have been able to take over the con­gres­sion­al budget de­bate in the last week. “Since they can’t get their way,” Har­kin said, “they’re go­ing to cre­ate this con­fu­sion and dis­course and hope that the pub­lic will be so mixed up in who is to blame for this, that they’ll blame both sides.”

This isn’t just con­gres­sion­al busi­ness as usu­al, Har­kin said. It’s much, much more dire:

It’s dan­ger­ous. It’s very dan­ger­ous. I be­lieve, Mr. Pres­id­ent, we are at one of the most dan­ger­ous points in our his­tory right now. Every bit as dan­ger­ous as the break-up of the Uni­on be­fore the Civil War.

This isn’t the first time the sen­at­or has spoken out about the spiral­ing budget and the fight over Obama­care. Har­kin sug­ges­ted Thursday that Cruz looked “fool­ish” for his “little tirade” that las­ted from Tues­day af­ter­noon un­til Wed­nes­day morn­ing. Har­kin called out Cruz as be­ing part of “the most ex­treme tea-party wing” of his party, and for his “ideo­logy-driv­en ob­struc­tion­ism.”

Of course, it’d be a stretch to think that the United States is on the cusp of any­thing as vi­ol­ent as the Civil War. But the con­sequences of a gov­ern­ment shut­down or top­ping over the debt ceil­ing could be massively harm­ful for the U.S. eco­nomy, wheth­er you’re look­ing at the pos­sib­il­ity of a down­grade in U.S. cred­it or just the shut­down in pay­ments and ser­vices with thou­sands of gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees out of work.

Har­kin isn’t the first to pull out a dra­mat­ic his­tor­ic­al ana­logy on the Sen­ate floor this week, either. Dur­ing his 21-plus hour speech, Cruz hearkened back to Nazi Ger­many for a com­par­is­on to “pun­dits” who think Obama­care can­not be de­feated:

If we go to the 1940s, Nazi Ger­many — look, we saw it in Bri­tain. Neville Cham­ber­lain told the Brit­ish people: Ac­cept the Nazis. Yes, they will dom­in­ate the con­tin­ent of Europe, but that is not our prob­lem. Let’s ap­pease them. Why? Be­cause it can’t be done. We can­not pos­sibly stand against them.

In Amer­ica there were voices who listened to that; I sus­pect the same pun­dits who said it couldn’t be done. If this had happened in the 1940s, we would have been listen­ing to them. Even then they would have made tele­vi­sion. They would have got­ten bey­ond the car­ri­er pi­geons and let­ters and they would have been on TV say­ing: You can­not de­feat the Ger­mans.

Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., later pil­lor­ied Cruz on the floor for the com­par­is­on.

So, for those of you keep­ing track at home: With just three days to go un­til a pos­sible gov­ern­ment shut­down, we’ve already had com­par­is­ons to Nazi Ger­many and the Civil War. And we’re surely not done yet.