Flight Delays Due to the Sequester Are a Brilliant Political Maneuver


A few days ago, my flight was delayed for an hour and a half due to "technical problems." When we boarded the plane, the pilot was quick to point out that all delays were due to the sequestration and that he was frustrated with Congress’ ineptitude.

All I could think about was the political craftiness of the Obama Administration. This must have been exactly what they imagined as they were choosing which programs to cut, knowing full well that the sequester was inevitable.

Traditionally speaking, spending cuts are directed towards those who are in the most need and hold the least political capital: the poor and the working class. It's particularly easy to target these groups because they do not have strong special interest representation in Washington and are generally less politically mobilized.

Congressmembers are therefore strongly incentivized to make cuts that target the poor. Afterwards, they can brag to their constituencies about lessening the debt without feeling substantial political backlash from those hurt. 

The cards are heavily stacked against the poor and the working class. Knowing this, the Obama Administration feared that the poor and the working class were on the chopping block yet again. They needed to find a way to make those with more political capital feel the budget cuts so that we would resist their permanence. They knew that many cuts are invisible to the average voter because they disparately impact poorer communities and therefore are not directly felt by most of us.

However, making everyone feel budget cuts is complicated and dangerous. The Obama Administration understood that the last thing we need is to punish the middle class during a weak, gradual recovery. Inflicting injury against the middle class in order to make a political point would be not only harmful to the recovery but also unduly harsh and unethical.

And ay, there’s the rub: They needed to make these cuts visible to us without making them harmful to us. So they came up with ways to bother us without inflicting blood loss.  

They observed a generation obsessed with convenience a generation of 20-40-year olds, all of whom have an app for delivery food because calling the restaurant is a huge hassle.

They delayed our flights by creating furloughs for air traffic controllers.

How many times have you arrived at the airport in no particular rush and yet found yourself irate at the prospect of sitting for an extra half hour by the gate?

To target those who take more interest in politics and are therefore more likely to mobilize, they cancelled White House tours. Again, it's frustrating and extremely visible to the public, but it’s not painful.

It would be wrong to suggest that the sequester did not also cause real harm to countless people. Teachers are being let go, programs for early childhood education such as Head Start are being cut, and meals are being taken away from seniors and the needy.

In fact, that's exactly what this plan is responding to. The administration knew that people would be hit by the sequester in a substantial way, which is why they wanted everyone else to notice the cuts as well.  

While waiting for my plane to take off, I realized that the Obama administration hit me where it hurts by making things in my life less convenient.

Most importantly, I'm now strongly incentivized to fight further budget cuts. My political capital is now in play.

It's a masterpiece in political maneuvering, and the plan appears to be working. The next time you fly, you’ll have time to admire it as I did while sitting on the tarmac.