The Sept. 20, 2013 issue of the New York Times contains an op-ed piece, “Kamikaze Congress,” by Charles Blow. The article cogently describes the frustrating irrationality of the Tea Party Republicans’ efforts to defund Obamacare, even though those efforts may result in a government shutdown or, worse, a failure to lift the US debt ceiling and a default on the public debt. Whether these politicians are actually being irrational (instead of pursuing their own personal and political interests) is something that could be debated, but I want to take issue with the title of the article. Blow does not really push the analogy in his article, but the title suggests that Kamikazes were on the same level that Tea Party Republicans are now.
I object for three reasons. First, Kamikaze pilots were not motivated by partisan interests. Although religious motives were probably mixed with patriotism, these Japanese sailors and airmen were directed by military leaders in a time of war to try to reverse the impending victory of the Allies near the end of World War II. It is a safe bet that the Kamikaze pilots deeply believed their actions were in the national interest, rather than the interest of members of one political party. The effort to defund Obamacare, in contrast, is partisan. As cited by Blow, a CNN poll shows that 43% of respondents favor the new health care law, while an additional 16% of respondents are against it because it is not liberal enough. That is, the defunding of Obamacare would go against the perceived interests of well over half of Americans (or at least those who would respond to a CNN poll). The Tea Party’s efforts are political, not patriotic, and in this sense they are very different than the actions of Kamikaze pilots.
Second, the Kamikaze attacks were a military tactic, a means to the desired goal of inflicting casualties on the US Navy and sinking its vessels. In contrast, there is no way the US Senate will pass the recent funding bill containing the defunding of Obamacare. Unless that clause is removed, the federal government will shut down, and the Tea Partiers will not achieve anything else. If the debt ceiling is not raised, then damage to the US economy (and beyond) will result, but nothing else — the Tea Partiers will still not achieve their goals. The analogy would be better if the Kamikaze pilots deliberately smashed their airplanes into the water next to US ships, just to show them how much the Japanese meant business.
Third, the Kamikaze pilots were giving up their own lives (and of course injuring as many US sailors as possible), but the the welfare of the Japanese people or the world at large did not suffer as a result. In contrast, the intention of the Tea Party branch of the Republican Party seems to be to shut down the federal government, jeopardizing essential programs and the US economic recovery; and if the US defaults on its debt, then the economic consequences–not just to the US economy, but to the global economy–will be potentially devastating. And keep in mind, if global economic growth drops 1 or 2 percentage points and unemployment ticks up a couple percentage points, these are not just numbers: small-seeming changes in these numbers means hardship for hundreds of millions of people across the world. To sum up, the title of Blow’s article does the Kamikaze pilots an injustice; if the Kamikazes were around today, they would use “Tea Party Republican” to refer to someone who was really crazy.