What Bothers Me About The Government Shutdown

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 14.472% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Interestingly enough, on some level I became actually sympathetic of the Tea Partiers’ efforts after reading Ross Douthat’s analysis of how the right has never actually gotten what they wanted.  All the right’s ever wanted was a smaller government, and what they’ve gotten has been “increasingly size at a slower rate,” which is kind of like going on a diet and only gaining five pounds a year instead of twenty.
So on some abstract level, I get the shutdown: it is, in a way, the liberal fantasy we’ve dreamed of having, bold politicians who’ll say, “This is what we want, and we will accept no less!”
…then I look at what they’re actually doing, and I really hate every aspect of it.  If the Republicans would own this issue as “We’re going to make America fiscally responsible if it kills you,” then at least I’d respect them.  But they know that for all of America’s griping, nobody wants less government when it affects them – they only want to cut things for other people.  The reason the Republicans have never significantly stemmed the growth of government is because Americans actually like government a whole lot, they just don’t like it when the benefits aren’t flowing in their direction.
So what we get instead of an honest debate is “OBAMA WON’T NEGOTIATE!” (which is bullshit, as the Republicans have literally made obstructionism the core of their movement), and “OBAMACARE IS WORSE THAN SLAVERY!” and basically their big stick comes not from a bad budget, but from stopping a healthcare program that they admit they have no alternatives to and repealing would leave a lot of people to die.
So in theory: I’m for it.  In practice, it’s extremely shitty and petty, and irritates me, and I hope it destroys the Republicans in the way that Jimmy Carter destroyed the Democratic party for almost two decades.  (It’s already costing them, as David Frum has pointed out.)
But what bothers me most about it is this: in many ways, the shutdown is kind of a Republican victory.  Because nobody wants to be a dick about, you know, an outbreak of salmonella, we’re quietly re-opening the bits of government that are most needed.  And as liberals, you’re in a quandary: the best method to show exactly how much government regulation is actually needed is to let everything go to hell and then, once the bodies are strewn across the landscape, point out that all this happened because the Republicans thought this sort of thing was frippery.
Yet you don’t want to kill people.  So you cave and re-open whatever seems necessary at the time, without ever really acknowledging the good these things do.
In that sense, I feel like we’re following a four-year-old around who’s insisting, “STOVES NOT BAD, MA!  KNIVES NO HURT NOBODY!” and yanking his hands away from the burners and blades as he screams that his friends say nobody needs your protection.  Yeah, it’s making the kid safer for now, but it’s also not teaching him the lesson that yeah, in fact, we don’t stick our hands in the burners for a reason, and there’s a part of me that wants to let the kid get a nice, solid blister so he’ll stop yelling at me for being so mean about the stove.
But you don’t want a blistered kid and you don’t want people hurt.  So you quietly push him away from the stove, and wonder if there’s a better way.  There probably isn’t.
All you can kind of do is hope that one day he’ll either listen, or get hurt in a way that doesn’t do too much damage.  But even if he gets hurt… you’re pretty sure he won’t learn.

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