There used to be a time when Presidents and Congresses made policy and when political strategists knew what they were doing. And now there is no sense of either. Let’s take this whole budget impasse, hyperpartisanship, brinkmanship, and political maneuvering apart and try to understand what is going on inside the Beltway these days.
First, the budget impasse. Once again, the public is far ahead of politicians. It isn’t the so-called “47%” (the moochers made famous by GOP standard-bearer Mitt Romney) who want to avert a shutdown. It is 80% of the public. Voters don’t vote to have no government. Smart voters realize that the entire population is dependent on the federal government. Highways; Social Security and Medicare; clean meat, water, air, drugs; homeland security; safe toys and workplaces; national parks and monuments (i.e. our history present and future, for God’s sake), safe automobiles and flights; protection of intellectual property; protection against kidnapping, and on and on.
To borrow famous words of a half-century ago, “Ich bin ein 47%”. We are all dependent and most of us pay for it. A government shutdown is a mess, a disaster, for millions of Americans – no matter how many exceptions are enacted. Chaos, lack of productivity, bad morale, stoppages and shortages.
Second, the hyperpartisanship. We have experienced this before, most notably, in the 1850s and the onset of the Civil War (which was really not very civil). Two sides, firmly dug in, absolutely refusing to give in. But there are two problems with this. There are fewer and fewer partisans beyond the Beltway; more and more Americans are defining themselves as independents (to be sure, with leanings) and moderates. Who is speaking to them today? The other problem is that there are not enough “liberals” to dictate policy and not enough “conservatives”, either. Beyond even that, there is a vicious war within the conservative movement as to what constitutes the “real” conservative. This fractious within the GOP doesn’t show any sign of abating.
Add to this: in the movie When Harry Met Sally, at least they fell in love. Not the case when Harry met Mitch. This tragedy is personal now, too.
Third, the folly of brinkmanship. Fox and MSNBC viewers love this crap but mostly everyone else does not. Consider that even on their best nights, 308.5 million Americans are not watching Bill O’Reilly and 311 million aren’t watching Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow. After a full day of keeping (or trying to get) a job, making the sure the kids are safe and fed, and attending to the real matters that affect their daily lives, most Americans have no patience for yelling on television and talking heads. (If they truly need yelling, that is what families are for!) Just as they have duties and responsibilities, they certainly assume their government does, too. And they expect it to meet its responsibilities. That is not entitlement; it is duty. And, besides, they are paying for it.
Finally, there is the matter of political maneuvering. The last two times the GOP played with the fire of shutdown they got burned. What would make this any different? If the game plan is to assert itself, embarrass the President, go eyeball-to-eyeball over Obamacare and position itself to win enough seats to get back the Senate next year, then there are lessons to be learned. In both 1995 and 2006, the GOP lost seats following their hardline stance. The Obama base has somewhat fallen out of love with their hero, but young and minority voters are frightened by the GOP.
Remember, it was young women who turned out in big numbers to vote against the GOP in 2012 and they could do so again. Then let’s say that the GOP wins control of the Senate and keeps the House. Do they really expect the President of the United States and the congressional Democrats to be chastened and not play by the same obstructionist rules they have been using the past five years? This could be another serious miscalculation and there would be no Vladimir Putin to step in and save the day.
This shutdown strategy is not a circus. Circuses, after all, are fun and entertaining. It is a travesty and the GOP will suffer again. So will we all.