Friday, October 4, 2013

Shutdown Kabuki (Update: Obama Golf Course Still Open)

I have returned from the wilderness, from Wheeler Ridge and Angel's Perch, and from no less a wilderness than Las Vegas (though only as a caravansary), to find another rendition of grand political theatre in the form of the government shutdown.


Several sources have asked for my observations on how this is to unfold, and its impact.  The questions remind me that it has been some time since the last political show, that being in 1996, though we have come close a few times since.  In fact, this marks the 18th time since 1974 that we have gone through this charade, but there has been practically a new generation that has come of voting age and awareness. 

Perhaps you have already perceived my attitude about this drama, fodder as it is for politicians and the press, which follows the script in almost breathless fashion, but the fact of the matter is that this is entirely for show. 

The last 'crisis' was marked by the MSM laying the blame on the doorstep of the Republicans, despite the fact that the GOP-led Congress passed a budget which was in turn vetoed by President Clinton.  The 1994 election had gone squarely against the Democrats, aided in most part by their back-room attempt (squired by the unelected Hillary Clinton) at bringing health care under federal control, then labeled derisively as HillaryCare.  (Is any of this starting to sound strangely familiar?)  The magnitude of the defeat was directly proportional to the subsequent effort of the Democrats and the press (but I repeat myself) to claw their way back to the top.  House Speaker Newt Gingrich was vilified at every opportunity in the most transparent ways.
Over a brief period of time, public perception became 2-1 against the Republicans for 'shutting down the government' despite Clinton's veto, and Republicans have been gun-shy of the tactic ever since. 

In fact, Charles C W Cooke of National Review Online provides a helpful template of the history of shutdowns: of the 17 examples, 15 of them were instigated by a Democrat-led House, eight of them when the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, and five times when they controlled Congress and the presidency as well.  What makes this most recent budget battle unique is that Obama responds with his default position of leaving town to campaign instead of remaining to negotiate, which he makes a point of advertising, even going so far as to call the congressional actors to the White House to tell them that he will not talk to them.  Instead, he simply repeats his position by stamping "Me Too" onto whatever Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi come up with. 

Further, on a more fundamental point, Cooke answers the pundits who insist that re-electing Obama means that he can have whatever he wants:
Still, popular or not, the abject folly of making "majority rule" arguments in a system of equally ranked branches should be self-evident.  This truly is painfully simple: Republicans are the majority in the House, and the House's assent is necessary to a legal budget.  Indeed, if any of the players in the budgetary game is superior, it is the House.  Not only is it wholly wrong to pretend that the House is expected to acquiesce to the fiscal and legislative demands of the president simply because he won the last election, but it is dangerous – just one more step on the road to the imperial polity that the American system of separated powers was contrived to prevent.
Perhaps the Democrats and their pundits should peruse the Constitution to try to find somewhere in Article II where it says that the president is bestowed the powers of an emperor.  When the President submits a budget to Congress, which Obama has never successfully done, even on those few occasions when he tried (whereupon it was voted down even by the totality of the Democrats), the House acts upon it, making the necessary adjustments, only as a Constitutional courtesy.  (See Article I, Section 7, which begins with "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.") 

Another aspect of the shut-down tactic of this game is that the public must take note and be heedful that life without a fully functioning government should be painful.  Cuts must be made to demonstrate that.  The result of the first 'Taxpayers Revolt' in California, the 1978 Proposition 13 that rolled back the threatening and skyrocketing property taxes, resulted in the professional bureaucracy striking back with announced closures of police, fire, education, libraries – areas where the voter must feel the sting from their insolence of daring to challenge the power of the state.  That is one of the rules of the game, and it applies no less here, but now we have a broader means – more balanced news sources, talk radio, web logs – of seeing the background of the game and the plays as they unfold. 

This results in what is now a tradition called the Washington Monument Ploy, a sardonic reference to the old football Statue of Liberty Play.  It was named as such in 1969 when the director of the NPS shut down the Washington Monument and the Grand Canyon in an effort to restore funding.  The public quickly saw through this cynical tactic and, though funding was later restored, the director was forced to resign.  The nomenklatura today, though, is no longer under any such compunction to honorably correct such hubris. 

The most obvious example is the absurd theatre unfolding at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC.  In this supposed austerity suddenly thrust upon us for an unforeseen period of time, the National Park Service has been directed to have their people erect barriers around the memorial – a place that is, up till now, completely open and unmanned.  (For that matter, it is now technically illegal to set foot upon the grass of the entire mall.)  Extra personnel have been assigned to erect and watch over the barrier.  It was immensely satisfying to see the first collection of World War II veterans brought to DC, at no small expense, simply blow past the barriers in defiance of this Potemkin-like obstacle to a memorial dedicated personally to them.  The extra Park Police and National Park Service officials were flummoxed and had to resort to asking their chain of command for guidance, and one wet hen in NPS uniform, protesting the "trespass" onto a public area, refused to answer questions about why she wasn't furloughed.

Meanwhile, SEIU paid shills $15 an hour to picket the veterans.

The administration is breaking new ground, over-reaching in expanding justifications for shutting down popular tourist areas.  A passel of officials were dispatched to erect barricades (now starting to be called Barry-cades) across scenic overlooks on the George Washington Parkway, and were sent to Mount Vernon to close off that estate, despite the fact that Mount Vernon is run by a private foundation.  Likewise, a popular 17th-century farm in a Virginia park was shut down, with NPS police removing staff and volunteers, because it is associated in partnership with adjoining federal land.  The Claude Moore Colonial Farm has never been effected before, and it derives the totality of its income from fees and programs, thus the shutdown here imposed for the first time threatens to close the site permanently. 

There was an initial concern that the pay of the military would be effected, but Obama announced on Monday that military pay would not be withheld, in response to one of the bills that the Republicans are putting forth to finance the vital parts of the government.  Yet two years ago, with a threat of a looming shutdown, he threatened just that, along with a withholding of Social Security payments.  So which is it?  Either we are compelled by law and procedure to delay the pay of our military, or not – he can't have it both ways.  That is, unless his reaction to either case discloses his typical imperial penchant of blithely choosing which laws to obey or disregard. 

There are also the silly web site warnings that they are inaccessible due to the shutdown.  Of course they're accessible, just like mine has been available during my recent absence – you click onto it, and it's there.  This is like the government claiming that you can unprint a book, unless they expect us to believe that some apparatchik is powering the site by some organ-grinder crank handle. 

Even military cemeteries on foreign soil, like the one at Normandy, are now being closed for the first time.  Sure, you can probably cite some petty legal distinction that some could interpret to try to justify and excuse the extreme punishment to those who have saved for their whole life to visit the sacred place of rest of a loved one, but these examples are just part and parcel of the small-minded viciousness that underlie this circus, and they do not address the question of why, after all the past examples, are all these other sites both here and abroad being shut down in this particular 'man-caused disaster'.

"Gentlemen, you see that in the anarchy in which we live, society manages much as before.  Take care, if your disputes last too long, that the people do not come to think that they can very easily do without us."  --Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention 1787

Update: There are now reports that the Barry-cades are being tied together with wire instead of police tape to hinder people moving them and to keep the public from entering public land.

I can understand that if you send the clerk home from the bookstore at the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, then close the bookstore.  But to shut down the entire area?  These are public parks, which belong to the people, not the government, and most certainly not to the administration.  We should take as an example the World War II veterans, and simply occupy these public areas as we see fit, in a demonstration of civil disobedience.

I suggest a run on wire-cutters, available at practically any hardware store for about $10 and up, and carry a pair in your back pocket.  (I trust that Texas will make exception to its law.)  This is just in case you run up against a federal obstacle to the public.

Update: While the list of questionable closures adds up, we find that there are exceptions for parks near Democrat legislators, as well as Obama's favorite golf course at Andrews AFB.

And what about National Public Radio?  Shouldn't that be shut down for the interim?  Democrats could always switch to MSNBC, which would at least give them an audience.  I wouldn't be surprised if Al Jazeera America passed them in the ratings.  (H/T: John Lock)

Update: From Day by Day:



  1. I'd love to see them shutter NPR. No such luck. The GOP may finally (finally!) be wising up to the fact that the dominant news media always blames Republicans whatever they do, so worrying about it is a waste of time.

    1. That's what I believe may be possible -- there are now a sufficient amount of alternative sources to the MSM that we may have reached the tipping point in coverage.


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