Uneasy About Shutting It Down


I don't have a good feeling about the shutdown. Each side expresses confidence the other will take the hit. Democrats point to public support for taking care of Dreamers and to the 2013 shutdown that did not cost Republicans in subsequent elections. Republicans think they have a winning hand when they paint the Democratic position as support for illegal immigration at the expense of the troops. Trump sees this as red meat for his slavering base. The country is not well served no matter who it all blows up on.

Republicans have an advantage here. It is Democrats who believe government has a role to play in promoting the general welfare and common good. Not all Republicans hold to Grover Norquist's position that the goal is to shrink government to the size where they can drown it in a bathtub, but they do tend to drift in that direction. OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says it is kind of cool to be the person in charge of technically shutting down the government. The shutdown does not include the parts of government Republicans care about, such as the military and immigration enforcement, which continue to function. Where is the pressure for them to strike a deal?

I understand the sense among Democrats that there is a moral imperative to protect Dreamers from deportation. They have precious few options and face demands from supporters to "show some spine" and take a stand. On the other hand, past shutdowns have not worked out particularly well for Republicans. It remains to be seen if Democrats are better served by rolling the dice to pursue a risky path by way of a failed Republican tactic than they would be pursuing their cause in the court of public opinion while continuing to push for immigration reform.

The substantial economic cost of closing and then reopening government offices is significant, but of greater concern is the normalization of government shutdown as an acceptable legislative tactic, which renders farcical those quaint concepts of good governance taught in civics classes. Against this one might argue that the fate of hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals compels us to act in accordance with a higher principle. I would respond that the course of action adopted by the Democrats is by no means certain to bear good fruit and comes with a price that is not insignificant. A Democratic win would be an unquestioned good for the Dreamers and the moral integrity of the nation, but it would carry with it establishment of a precedent that shutting down the government can be an effective means to a desired end, and with that comes the specter of more of the same down the road.

DACA is not the only issue. Republican failure to present a budget and to work with Democrats to get the sixty votes needed to pass it in the Senate leaves us to bumble from crisis to crisis as we rely on short-term continuing resolutions to fund the government. As many have observed before me, this is no way to run a country. It is no way to run a birthday party for a five-year-old.

Judy Woodruff interviewed Senate Democrats Jeff Merkley (Oregon) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nevada) on Friday's PBS Newshour. Merkley and Masto were impressive. They presented the Democrats' case more persuasively than anything I have seen from Schumer, Pelosi, or Durbin. The country will benefit if they and others of their caliber become the face of the party.

I remain uneasy about it all.

Memo from the Editorial Desk

Minor edits were made in the third paragraph (addition of the present third sentence and revision of the final sentence) after this piece was published.

Related Reading That May Be of Interest (I know, a lot of Vox on the list. Vox is one among a number of go-to news sources. These pieces strike me as particularly good on the shutdown.)

It takes a special type of hypocrite to accuse your opponents of hypocrisy for following in your footsteps. … Now Republicans are perfectly entitled to say Democrats are copying them. We can argue about whether their principles about Obamacare are more or less important than the Democratic efforts to stop the deportation of children brought to the country as undocumented immigrants.

We can surely all agree that shutdowns are an insane way to manage political disputes at any time, by any party. Democrats should take no pride in shutting down the government.

But Republicans cannot, as a matter of principle, pretend to be outraged that Democrats are following them. And they cannot, as a matter of political good sense, pretend like the electoral damage is all going to fall on their opponents.

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