Even as Congressional Republicans insist they are willing to negotiate—as if the other side had any demands—the federal shutdown drags on. Although previous reports from anonymous moderates held that John Boehner was determined to pass a clean debt ceiling increase, the Washington Post reported yesterday that he is willing to risk default. “That’s the path we’re on,” Boehner said on ABC’s This Week, unless President Obama offers some undetermined concessions on the Affordable Care Act or federal spending. Page 2 of the same article contains this paragraph:
Some Republicans argue that missing [routine Social Security payments] would not amount to a governmental default. They say that would occur only if the Treasury Department fails to make interest payments to investors.
It’s good to see the GOP’s priorities remain intact.
The full faith and credit of the United States, not to mention the stability of world financial markets, is now on the table in the coercive “negotiation” between House Republicans and the rest of the US government. It’s a weird kind of standoff, considering that Republicans are threatening to inflict enormous damage on not only their opponents but also themselves. Nobody wants a default. It could very well wreck the United States economy. And yet House Republicans are banking on the responsibility of the other party, basing their entire coercive strategy on the other side showing more concern for the country than they have.
The GOP’s other bedrock assumption, besides Democrats being weak because they are responsible stewards, is that public opinion will not turn against them. Two homunculi animate the House golem: their principled opposition to Obamacare, and their belief that the shutdown is good for their party, or at least equally bad for the President and his.
That element suggests a way out of this mess. If public opinion and media coverage were to shift in such a way that Republicans considered the shutdown not just a pox on the nation but also an ongoing drain on their image, they might conclude they have more to gain from breaking the deadlock. It’s times like this America relies on its fourth branch of government, the press. That’s probably why the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote this breathtakingly cynical rundown of the shutdown’s winners and losers.
To be fair, he begins by asserting that they are all losers. His very first sentence announces the “fact” that no one in Washington looks good this week, and his list is divided into “losers” and “not-quite losers.” His commitment to false equivalence is strong. It’s so strong that he lists Ted Cruz in both categories. Cillizza says the Senator from Texas has emerged as the face of the shutdown, which is somehow good for his 2016 presidential aspirations even though the author has just finished saying everyone looks awful. Also, everyone in Cruz’s party hates him.
Other losers include “House GOP moderates” and “rank-and-file Republicans,” who include such prominent Tea Party wags as Randy Neugebauer. Basically, Cillizza puts the entire Republican Party in his losers column, even as he insists with prim journalistic innocence that everyone in this situation looks bad. He just wants to triangulate how this massive abdication of responsibility will affect each person’s chances of winning and election later. But don’t worry—he acknowledges how cynical that is, so it’s okay:
For those who wonder how we can pick the bad and the even worse at a moment like this, remember that both a White House aide and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) were caught talking about “winning” the government shutdown over the last week. Politics infects everything—and we mean everything.
So, uh, politics infects your journalism, too? It’s odd that Cillizza would cite in his own defense some similar behavior that everyone considers reprehensible, but only if you step back from it. If you view it from the calculated political posturing of contemporary journalism, which achieves neutrality by ignoring blame, it makes sense. The media is not going to help us out of this one. The Republicans are going to drive this car over a cliff unless their passengers give them a handjob right now, and the Democrats are not in the mood. It’s down to the American people now. Our false friends have abandoned us.