Views from the left, right and middle on why Democrats, Republicans deadlocked


The showdown on Capitol Hill has been all the talk this week, along with the ripple effects and ramifications — not to mention the political fallout — of the federal shutdown. Today we share a few of the more interesting views we found on the situation. As always on Ideas & Voices, we’re presenting a balance of views to help provide a better understanding of the story. What do you think? Email or, and share your thoughts.


GOP is playing a blame game to avoid true story

From Jamelle Bouie at the Daily Beast: For almost everyone paying attention, it’s clear that the government shut down because Republicans wanted to shut it down.

But, as we’ve seen, this was a huge miscalculation. Americans are ambivalent about the president’s health-care law, yes, but they don’t want it repealed, and they overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s decision to shut down the government over its funding. According to the latest Quinnipiac national survey, 72 percent of Americans say they oppose shutting down the federal government to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and 58 percent oppose the effort to cut funding for the law, even as a plurality — 47 percent — continue to say they’re opposed to the health-care overhaul. As for the GOP’s public approval? Disdain for the Republican Party — 74 percent disapprove of the job they’re doing — is one of the few things the public can agree on.

Republicans made a tactical mistake. But rather than own up to it, they’ve adopted a new strategy: blaming the shutdown on Democrats for not acquiescing to their demands, and sacrificing their key accomplishment for the “concession” of letting the government operate. … The GOP doesn’t want to give up its demands and end the shutdown? Fine, that’s their prerogative. But why can’t the supposed party of personal responsibility take responsibility for its own actions?

The conservatives in Congress are ignorant villains

From Charles P. Pierce, at Esquire: Only the truly child-like can have expected anything else.

In … 2010, the voters of the United States elected the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible, though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for trees. But there has never been in a single Congress — or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress — a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party’s 2012 nominee for president. …

We have elected an ungovernable collection of snake-handlers, Bible-bangers, ignorami, bagmen and outright frauds, a collection so ungovernable that it insists the nation be ungovernable, too. We have elected people to govern us who do not believe in government.

We did this. We looked at our great legacy of self-government and we handed ourselves over to the reign of morons.

GOP is threatening the nation’s economy

From John B. Judis at The New Republic: The current government shutdown threatens to stall the already slow economic recovery from the Great Recession. But more is at stake here. Political philosophers from Aristotle to Locke have defined the nation-state as the highest form of political community. Locke, whose views are embedded in America’s Declaration of Independence, saw government as a result of a communal compact — a social contract — among peoples. What is happening in America is that this social contract is being voided, largely through the initiative of rightwing Republicans from the deep South and rural Midwest. America is not likely to become Afghanistan, but it could easily become Italy or Greece or even Weimar Germany. …

The largest effect is likely to be continued dysfunction in Washington, which if it continues over a decade or so, will threaten economic growth and America’s standing in the world, undermine social programs like the Affordable Care Act, and probably encourage more radical movements on the right and the left. …

What is the alternative? How can the United States escape this quagmire? There seem to me be two kinds of things that have to happen — one having to do with political movements and the other with structural changes in American politics. Politically, the Republican far right has to be marginalized. That can happen either through ordinary conservative Republicans like Tennessee Senator Bob Corker or California Congressman Devin Nunes bolting the party or by the conservatives and moderates reclaiming control of the party and forcing the far right to create its own party along the lines of the old Dixiecrats or George Wallace’s American Independent Party. In the former case, you would have the emergence of an FDR-strength Democratic majority; in the latter, an Eisenhower era collaboration between the parties.


Democrats trying to make shutdown as painful as possible

From Dana Loesch at Red State: Democrats want the shutdown to be as visible and painful-looking as possible so as to convince the public that they need massive government. Barricades have been placed in tour bus turn-arounds; direct orders were given to block WWII veterans from seeing the memorial built to them. …

Odd, they don’t react this way on federal holidays when government is truly shut down. Democrats could have stopped the appearance of pain by passing the Republican compromise sent to the Senate. Instead, they rejected it. Obama said he would veto it. Republicans suggested passing piecemeal spending bills for veterans, NIH; Democrats rejected the suggestion. Obama said he would veto these spending bills. Democrats refuse to pass a clean CR. They won’t pass Obamacare funding as a stand alone, which is what they should do, because doing so means they would face the unpopularity of Obamacare. The majority of Americans have never been anything but opposed to this act. It passed with not a single Republican vote. … Democrats can’t risk the PR nightmare of navigating it through Congress as a separate bill, so they hitch it to military pay and other essential things so they can claim Republicans hate paying the military. …

Taking up this fight has strengthened the Republican base

From Matt Cover, at the conservative website Rare: It doesn’t matter if Republicans ultimately win or lose in their fight to defund Obamacare. All that matters is that they played the game. Even if the public turns against them during a government shutdown and they’re forced to give in, the GOP base is already fired up.

The defund movement has sparked a wave of grassroots enthusiasm that even the most mainstream of GOP leaders are paying attention to, with the ever-cautious Republican National Committee running Facebook messages in support of the strategy.

Donations to the grassroots groups leading this fight are pouring in and nearly everything these groups do seeks to milk more money to fund the fight. This isn’t some cynical ploy for cash either, it’s a reaction to a genuine groundswell of support and enthusiasm from the conservative grassroots.

Conservative groups aren’t like the left’s union allies, they can’t force people to fund their activism, so when they see a spark begin to catch they take action to fan the flames. …

The 2014 elections are right around the corner and the GOP looks poised to make serious gains. With American independents behind them and the country in a historically conservative mood, the future does seem bright for the citizens of Red America. …

Shutdowns have happened plenty of times

By Andrew Stiles, at the National Review: The government shut down on October 1 for the 18th time since 1976, after the House and Senate could not agree on a resolution to fund it. Democrats have accused Republicans of negotiating with “a bomb strapped to their chest” and putting “a gun to everybody’s head,” as if it were an anomalous development in the modern political era for Congress to seek to extract policy concessions from the White House by withholding spending authorization. The resulting shutdown, Democrats now suggest, is as unprecedented as it is deplorable. …

Historically speaking, it is rather remarkable that Washington hasn’t experienced a government shutdown in nearly two decades. The shutdowns of the mid 1990s have been the subject of much debate. Beyond that, however, the chattering class appears to suffer from a short memory. …

At this point in Ronald Reagan’s second term, for example, the government had already shut down six times, for a total of twelve days, as a result of failed budget negotiations between the White House, a Republican Senate, and House Democrats under the leadership of Speaker Tip O’Neill (D., Mass.) — precisely the opposite of the political dynamic that exists today.

Of course, the current scenario is unique given the controversy surrounding Obamacare — legislation of historical scope that was passed in partisan fashion and remains unpopular, notwithstanding the re-election of its namesake. Perhaps if the situation were reversed, House Democrats would never be so irresponsible as to allow the government to shut down. History suggests otherwise.

Who’s responsible for all this?

From Chris Jacobs at the Heritage Foundation: All around the country, Americans are asking one question: Who’s responsible for the shutdown? And no, we’re not talking about the government slowdown — we’re talking about the Obamacare shutdown.

All claims to the contrary, Obamacare has been effectively shut down — people are running into roadblocks and error messages when trying to enroll in plans. …

Despite the fact that Obamacare seems to be doing a good job of collapsing under its own weight, Congress should still act to prevent any more federal taxpayer dollars from being used to implement this inherently unworkable law. …


The real problem is nation’s political structure

From Matthew Yglesias, at Slate: Juan Linz, the distinguished Yale political scientist, died on Tuesday morning in New Haven, Conn., at the age of 86. He was a great man whose death happens to have coincided with a series of news events that nearly perfectly illustrate some of the main themes of his work. Linz, you see, was a student of comparative government, of political institutions, and of democratic breakdown. He saw these, naturally enough, as related issues. He looked at the success of democratic institutions in Western Europe and their frequent failure in coup-ridden Latin America and saw the contrast as driven more by constitutional structure than by culture or economics.

And his analysis has a disturbing message for residents of the contemporary United States. The current atmosphere of political crisis isn’t a passing fad and it isn’t going to get better. In fact, it’s very likely to get worse. Much worse. And lead to a complete breakdown of constitutional government and the democratic order.

To see why, start with Linz’s analysis of Latin America in his two-volume series The Failure of Presidential Democracy. The problem, according to Linz, is right there in the title: too much reliance on presidents. In Linz’s telling, successful democracies are governed by prime ministers who have the support of a majority coalition in parliament. … Governing authority vests in a prime minister and a cabinet whose authority derives directly from majority support in parliament.

When such a prime minister loses his parliamentary majority, a crisis ensues. Either the parties in parliament must negotiate a new governing coalition and a new cabinet, or else a new election is held. If necessary, the new election will lead to a new parliament and a new coalition. These parliamentary systems are sometimes very stable (see the United Kingdom or Germany) and sometimes quite chaotic (see Israel or Italy), but in either case, persistent legislative disagreement leads directly to new voting.

In a presidential system, by contrast, the president and the congress are elected separately and yet must govern concurrently. If they disagree, they simply disagree. They can point fingers and wave poll results and stomp their feet and talk about “mandates,” but the fact remains that both parties to the dispute won office fair and square. As Linz wrote in his 1990 paper “The Perils of Presidentialism,” when conflict breaks out in such a system, “there is no democratic principle on the basis of which it can be resolved, and the mechanisms the constitution might provide are likely to prove too complicated and aridly legalistic to be of much force in the eyes of the electorate.” That’s when the military comes out of the barracks, to resolve the conflict on the basis of something — nationalism, security, pure force — other than democracy.

It used to seem as though Linz’s theory had one enormous and obvious flaw: the United States of America. The success of American democracy seemed to show that institutions were not the key. Old-fashioned Anglophone pluck and liberal values triumphed under both presidential and parliamentary systems. … Today, of course, we have ideologically disciplined parties that are “responsible” in the sense that they make a serious effort to deliver on their stated policy agendas. We also have a government shutdown, a looming debt ceiling breach, and a country in which regular order budgeting is an increasingly distant memory.

… Republicans will probably back down from the brink. We’ll probably avoid breaching the debt ceiling and the president won’t even need to resort to crazy platinum coin loopholes. It’ll probably be fine. … But Linz’s work raises the deeper question not of what will happen next week or next month, but next year or next decade. In a world with well-sorted parties and little ticket-splitting, the geography-driven differences in voting results for the House, Senate, and president are going to lead to persistent conflicts, in which both sides feel they have an electoral mandate to stand firm and there’s no systematic way to resolve the issue. That’s very bad news for America, and nobody knows how to stop it.

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