A real, live government shutdown looks different from various points across the political spectrum.
If you’re a pointy-headed East Coaster, you might be unable to quell your feelings of frustration at the obduracy that’s causing our present impasse. You might be tempted to curse the centrality of religion on the American right, noting that the same blind, uncompromising devotion that forces virulent and incurious strains of Christianity into conservative policy is also the instinct that makes them vulnerable to other juvenile intransigence, like Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge or the current beyond-the-realm-of-logic stand against Obamacare. If you’re someone for whom Keynes was merely one influential economist, of many, whose insights you recognize contributed to decades of Western prosperity, you are probably finding it very difficult to see “the other side” as anything but right now. And if you agree with any of these statements and call yourself a Republican, the onus is on you to retrieve your party from the brink of irrelevance or face the consequences.
But if you’re a real conservative, an avowed hater of Washington and President Obama, then congratulations. A government stoppage, after all, is what you’ve always wanted.
Maybe the most obvious sign that political commentary is dominated by ivory-tower elites is that none of them have seriously acknowledged that the U.S. government under the terms of a shutdown actually achieves something fairly close to a conservative utopia. Just imagine, liberals, if as the result of a principled stand against the worst tyrannies of a Republican president, the government will temporarily offer a public option and vigorous investment in urban renewal...until we get this mess cleaned up. Your party leadership is going to meet halfway eventually, but they’re out-of-touch elites who are mostly enamored of themselves and how well they can play ball. In the meantime, you’ve got a slice of heaven. Why would you ever want it to end?
It sounds like a melodramatic accusation, but at some point we have to take conservative conventional wisdom at face value and realize that the Tea Party represents people who are going to be genuinely ticked when the appropriations are passed. How many quotes do we need to hear about drowning government “in the bathtub,” as Mr. Norquist put it, before registering that maybe this represents a real goal? If someone being “from the government, and … here to help” is truly frightening, why wouldn’t the cessation of that government represent, forgive the term, progress? (Although Reagan might have been right. Hearing those words is undoubtedly part of a nightmare for the thousands of devastated people who accept federal assistance in the wake of natural disasters every year.) Well, the government has temporarily drowned; those people aren’t coming this week. Rejoice, I guess.
“The only proper functions of government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property.” So said Ayn Rand’s übermensch, John Galt, in Atlas Shrugged, a novel that is an ideological pillar for many members of the 30-person group holding Congress hostage at the moment. Luckily for them, this trio of “proper functions” is nearly an exhaustive list of what the government will be doing in the next few days; hell, we’re one special resolution away from making the courts and the military the only two permanent exemptions to the standstill. (The police, of course, are local.) No EPA regulators, no taxpayer-funded museums, no sex education, no boondoggles. No encumbrance, if you like.
Just running water, electrical outlets that work, and the flag. Unimproveable.
The Tea Party may not take dictation from 60-year old novels, but you’d have trouble pointing out where exactly they do, then. It’s not their Congressional leadership. The most common answer you’d hear from them is that they’re expressing the wills of their constituents, but the credibility of whom erodes pretty fast when you consider that the most ardent opponents of Obamacare generally come from the populations that need it most. In any event, they’ve pitched their battle for what may be the final time, and in doing so, they’ve achieved something approximating what all those mindless small-government axioms described: a safe, powerful America without the vast majority of its government. Even if only for a few days, let’s not kid ourselves. This is hog heaven for the most conservative of Americans. The only real threat is if they try to keep it that way.
Right now, anything’s possible.