After a rollercoaster 16 days, the federal shutdown is over. Now it is time for us to look at what we as Americans gained, lost, and learned from the struggle. Yep, nothing. Everything just got pushed three months down the road. There was no concrete result, other than the plant in my office is dead because I couldn’t get into the building to water it. But since I feel obligated to write something for this site, let’s take a deeper look at the national drama of October 1st to 16th.
The first thing we have to ask ourselves is, what changed over 16 days? On October 1st the Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Senate and President did not. On October 16th… we were at the same place as on October 1st. Although the ACA is not unfunded, it’s not really funded either, because the continuing resolution only lasts three months. Come January, the Republicans can reboot the effort to not fund it. But that likely won’t happen because both sides are now going into negotiations with the plan that a budget settlement will be hammered out by December 13th. Everything is the same, except now they’ve agreed to talk to each other. And my plant is dead.
When you think about it, it’s a very anticlimactic end for 16 days of name calling, blame throwing, open-air monuments being shut down, rallies being held, and the whole world being in suspense as the clock ticked down to the Dreaded Debt Ceiling Deadline, isn’t it?
Thankfully, everything was saved when the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives publicly admitted defeat, and the Leader of the Free World suddenly praised the efforts at negotiation he had been condemning for weeks. All of America breathed a sigh of relief because two career politicians who are skilled enough to have attained the highest offices in the land changed their minds on a dime. At the last-minute (almost literally) everything worked out, just like they do in the movies. And like seeing a movie, when the show was finished people walked out the door and soon forgot everything except the highlights.
Yep, it was all just like in the movies. People only remember the highlights. Hmmm….
I’m calling shenanigans.
The federal shutdown, and otherwise banal administrative occurrence, was turned into ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ by our political ringmasters, and the debt ceiling was the excuse they needed to call the curtain on it. Think about it: It’s a year before the 2014 elections, so what do the Republicans and Democrats stand to gain by whipping America into a frenzy right now? Well, think about the movies. What do you remember about Robocop? Yep, the guy who fell in the toxic waste dump before he got splattered on the windshield. You don’t remember the details, you just remembered the spectacle. In the same way, the Republicans and Democrats know that all you’ll remember about the shutdown in a year is one thing: your political party stood up for what it believed in. What they know you won’t remember is that at the end of their “valiant struggle,” they did the boring thing they should have done at the outset. They sat down and talked about it. Disagree? Then raise your hand if you went to see Robocop for the dialogue. Didn’t think so, America.
So why was it important to them to put on the show? Because winning elections depend on getting people off the couch and into the voting booth. In your typical off-year election only about a third of eligible voters show up to vote. Half of that number is registered to each party, and 80% of all voters will cast their ballots for Congress according to what political party they belong to. With the odds so evenly split between the two major parties, the winner of a Congressional election is rarely the guy with the best ideas. Nope, the winner is the guy who got more of his friends to show up to the voting booth than the other guy did. By firing you all up with this charade, they’re banking on getting more of their own registered voters showing up to the ballot box next year.
I hope you enjoyed the show, America, and I hope the ticket you bought is worth the price you paid for it. Good luck getting a refund. I think they already spent the money.
Written By Matt Haarington, MPH
Director of Policy Analysis
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