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The US shutdown: plenty of blame to go around

American voters elected a divided government, and it’s increasingly clear that is exactly what they got.
Last modified: 2 Oct 2013 00:57

I’m currently bathed in blame. It’s not that I’ve done anything wrong. It is my location, I’m in Washington, D.C. and it’s simply covering the city right now; imagine the slime from the movie Ghostbusters, but this is invisible still it’s having the same effect. Everyone is angry – at the other guy – it’s all their fault the government is partially shut down.

I will spare you the instant analysis about the polls on the Affordable Care Act, who is acting like a grown up and who could be hurt politically. The last part is just insulting, as hundreds of thousands of real people are really going to be hurt financially.

I thought I would take a look from further away. I should warn you that it’s been a very long time since I received my bachelor’s degree in political science. No, I won’t say how long but it was before the creation of Netflix.

We could blame the founding fathers. In part because they were so anxious to get rid of any public longing for old England, they wouldn’t use the parliamentary system. Instead we have this American system, and what it means is the US government is able to not work, but still exist. The creators are long dead, unable to defend themselves so that’s probably unfair and it’s done anyway. No going back now.

You could blame Elbridge Gerry, the famed governor of Massachusetts in 1812. Don’t know Mr. Gerry? You probably know the practice he created by drawing a “salamander”-like voting district to benefit his political party. The practice stuck and its now cleverly called “gerrymandering”. Congressional districts are now drawn by the party in power to make sure they can’t lose the seat. It also means that the politicians who win those districts only fear a loss in the primary election. The people who vote in U.S. primaries tend to be farther to the right or left of the majority of their party. The politicians fear their base and being described as not conservative or liberal enough could cost these politicians their jobs.

You could blame the lack of campaign finance reform and the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the casino-like spending on U.S. elections. It used to be that the leaders of political parties had real power. If you want to keep your seat they would say to their young colleagues, ‘You need me and the money and endorsements I bring’. With outside spending, that threat can often ring hollow. There are other kingmakers in town.

Now here is the part that will undoubtedly gain me criticism from partisans, so consider this fair warning. You could blame President Barack Obama. You could say that if he had handled the entire creation of the Affordable Care Act better and this wouldn’t be an issue the Republicans could even think of trying to fight. The law is not popular, but the President passed it and moved on. In the absence of an “explainer in chief” and a consistent one, the Republican media beat drum constantly, “this was socialized medicine, there would be death panels, and mandated insurance is bad.” They set the narrative that a few speeches in front of “Obamacare beneficiaries” cannot change.

There are those who are blaming the President for simply refusing to negotiate. He did campaign on the promise to change the tone in Washington. You can probably see the tone hasn’t improved, talking didn’t do it, but it’s hard to see how refusing to talk will accomplish that goal either. Even if his non-negotiating gamble pays off and in a few days the collective country stands up and figuratively slaps down the Republican party in polls, feelings will still be frayed perhaps even more so if they are forced to back down.

Now the case for blaming the Republicans. You could make the argument that the Republican House Speaker is unable to control his caucus so he gets most of the blame. He could, after all put a funding bill to the floor, get some of his party and Democrats to vote ‘yes’. Crisis averted for all of 45 days. It could also cost him his job if the “tea party” caucus proves as powerful as they appear to be lately. You could also blame that small caucus that “forced” him to take this approach.

See? There is plenty of blame to go around. In fact, you could blame me as well. I’m an American and I vote. I won’t tell you who I voted for, but the country collectively voted to put the exact same people back in power, in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. The names haven’t changed and neither have their policies. This latest showdown shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is the sixth Washington created crisis in just over two years. There are no signs that is going to change as of right now. Remember that old adage: you get what you paid for? American voters elected a divided government and it’s pretty clear right now, that is exactly what they got.