August 1, 2021

Lessons from the Shutdown

Well, the “government shutdown” is finally over.  If you were like me, you were probably wondering how the government can be considered “shut down” if the NSA is still spying on us, the IRS is still auditing us, and the President hadn’t been kicked out of HIS house (which, if you will remember, also sits on federal land).  All in all, the shutdown was not nearly as destructive as we had heard it would be.

The end of the world did not come.  Meteorites did not scour all life from the Earth’s surface.  Our nation did not fragment into a Mad Max-esque wasteland of biker gangs and apocalyptic warlords.  In many ways, you would never have known that there was even a shutdown going on, provided you didn’t try to visit a national park or expect a paycheck for your military service.

Nevertheless, there are a number of observations we can make about the shutdown, and lessons we can learn from it.

First, the Obama administration is not above shutting down the government and creating a huge amount of furor, if it will help distract attention away from the numerous scandals that have plagued this administration.  Let’s face it – the “shutdown” was pure political theater, and nothing more.  Obama actively worked to bring it to pass, pretending to want to “compromise” and “find solutions” while really refusing to negotiate with House Republicans and actively presenting them with “deals” so unpalatable that no reasonable person could have accepted them.  Then, when the “shutdown” actually happened, amazingly all the signs and barricades and other stage props were instantly rolled out, almost as if they’d been prepared and set aside for weeks in anticipation of the moment.  This “shutdown” was all about grandstanding and showmanship, and giving Obama and the news media the opportunity to furl their brows and worry about those evil Republicans who want less spending and more freedom for the individual.

Concurrently, we learned that Republican politicians continue to show us why the GOP is nicknamed “the Stupid Party” in many circles.  The stupidity came not from standing firm against ObamaCare and other massive spending by the Democrats.  Instead, it came as we saw “moderate” Republicans hem and haw and find every way they could to undercut their own side, while ostensibly pretending to be for “fiscal responsibility.”  The Republicans had no plan, no strategy for how they intended to win the shutdown showdown.  Half their caucus wanted to hold fast on freedom sanity, while the other half was more interested in getting the media to like them by slamming their own Party members and blaming anybody but the real culprits – the Democrats.  Just like in 1995, when Clinton was reportedly 48 hours away from folding, Republican disunity and centrist hamfistedness plucked away a victory and handed the GOP a defeat.

What’s even more ridiculous, from a purely political standpoint, is that Obama was taking massive hits from the shutdown that he engineered.  Rasmussen had Obama’s approval ratings hitting record lows – 37% at one point, getting down into George W. Bush numbers – because of the shutdown.  While it was reported that Congress was also getting low approval ratings, stop and think about that. Congress always has low approval ratings.  Everybody says they don’t like Congress: Independents give low marks because they’re tired of both parties, and the rank-and-file of both parties associates Congress with the other guys, and disapproves accordingly.  So low approval ratings for Congress aren’t exactly a bellwether of public anger at them for the shutdown, despite the best efforts of the news media to portray it as such.  If the Republicans were less worried about listening to the media spin on issues, and more worried about getting outside the beltway and actually listening to their constituents (remember, nearly 60% of the country still hates ObamaCare), they would have held firm, and Obama is the one who would have surrendered.

Evidence for this comes from the recent senatorial election in New Jersey to replace Frank Lautenberg.  This race pitted left-wing Obama clone Cory Booker against conservative Republican Steve Lonegan.  Booker won – but the Democrats really don’t really have any reason to be comforted in this victory, other than in the bare fact that they retained a Senate seat from a left-wing state.

The kicker of the election is the margin of Booker’s victory, compared with the margin by which Obama won the state in 2012.  Obama won the state by around 18 points.  Booker only won by around 10.  Keep in mind, too, that Steve Lonegan is a bona fide conservative Republican – more so than Mitt Romney is.  In fact, Lonegan is, in all fairness, probably too conservative to really be genuinely competitive in a state like New Jersey.  Yet, he ran a very hard-hitting campaign against Booker, including connecting Booker with Obama, and managed to cut the Democrats’ margin almost in half.  This suggests a statewide shift towards Republicans and conservatives, which very likely herald a similar shift nationwide.  That is bad news for Democrats.

Put another way, let’s say we took Obama’s victory margins in 2012, and cut them to the same extent that the Democrats’ margin in New Jersey was this week.  In other words, take around 4% off Obama’s numbers and add around 4% to Romney’s.  Do that, and you see Colorado, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, New Hampshire, and even Pennsylvania flipping to the R column.  Nevada and Wisconsin would have razor-thin margins – too close to call.  Even states like Minnesota and Michigan would be competitive for Romney.  What this suggests is that if today’s political environment existed last November, Obama would have been voted out of office.  If the present environment maintains itself until November 2014, the GOP stands to make gains in the Senate and maintain its hold on the House.  Electoral trends generally tend to reflect national movement, barring the odd result that truly hinged on some local issue or personality.

Yet another lesson that I am sure the Republican Party will fail to take to heart.

As we saw, “shutting down” the government really doesn’t affect the lives of the average, everyday middle class backbone of the country, except when the government purposefully tries to make it annoy them (more on this below) by impeding their vacations or otherwise throwing bureaucratic monkey-wrenches into the peripherals of their lives.  This is why the Republicans, ultimately, will not be hurt by the government “shutdown” and would stand to gain if they held a firmer line.  Middle America doesn’t want or need the sort of government intrusion that was threatened if the shutdown were to happen, the warning that the grab bag of goodies is going to go away – goodies which most of middle America (the middle classes, small business owners, professionals, white and blue collar workers, etc.) don’t utilize and don’t want to pay for anywise.  Instead, what actually happened in the shutdown – parks closed, monuments that never before even had personnel staffing them suddenly being barricaded, veterans dishonored and barred from their own sites, military pay hindered, property owners being forcibly evicted from their land, tourists being blockaded in hotels by armed federal agents, etc. – offended middle America.  Hence why Obama’s approval plummeted.  The threatened (or should we say “promised”?) consequences of welfare stopping, bloated bureaucracies being stymied, and wasteful programs grinding to a halt never materialized.

Perhaps the most cogent take away message from the shut down, however, is that it helped to illustrate the fact that we really and truly don’t need the level of government that we have.  We could cut a lot out of what we’re paying for, and still be just fine.  If the government has to go out of its way to purposefully make the shutdown more hurtful than it is otherwise, then this suggests that the federal government doesn’t need to be doing a lot of these things anywise.  If the government can allocate excess personnel to barricade monuments that normally were open access and had no attendants, then this suggests that many of the National Park Service personnel who were apparently so under-utilized that they were free to harass World War II veterans could stand to be cut from the payroll.  If the states are able to operate national parks at their own expense, as several were, then do we really even need a National Park Service to begin with?  Why not just devolve national parks back to the states or to private hands?  Going further, why don’t we just devolve all federal lands back to the states, other than the ones, such as military bases, which actually have a constitutional basis for existing?

The government shutdown ought to bring questions like this to the forefront of the minds of any thinking person.  What else could be cut that doesn’t affect our lives, and only serves to pick our pockets?  Maybe instead of having 20 programs that do the same thing, we could streamline them down to one, eliminate the excess, and save taxpayer monies?  Maybe we don’t even need that one program, if it’s not constitutionally allowed?  Maybe the NSA and the IRS and other alphabet agencies could stand a trip to the gym to lose some of their fat?  If conservatives were smart, they would purvey the shutdown into a forceful argument for cutting spending – and not just on the failed ObamaCare program.  It’s time to make that case.

 

Tim Dunkin is a pharmaceutical chemist by day, and a freelance author by night, writing about a wide range of topics on religion and politics. He is the author of an online book about Islam entitled Ten Myths About Islam, and is the founder and editor of Conservative Underground, a bi-weekly email newsletter focusing on foundational conservative worldview and philosophy.
He is a born-again Christian, and a member of a local, New Testament Baptist church in North Carolina. He can be contacted at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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