Would a Govt. Shutdown Sway the Tea Party Types?


With a showdown over the budget looming in the House and a government shutdown looking all but inevitable, many people are arguing that this is exactly what we need, that the blowback against the Republicans will be so powerful that it will bring the Tea Party Republicans in the House back to their senses and bring them to the table for negotiation. Noam Scheiber, for example:

Next there are the Tea Partiers, who give every indication of wanting a shutdown, too. Unlike mainstream Republicans, who appreciate the damage a shutdown would inflict on their party, the Tea Partiers consider it win-win. A shutdown would mean they forced their leadership to stand up to Obama, which plays well in their districts and the various organs of the conservative movement. And when the GOP inevitably bowed to public opinion and sued for peace, the Tea Partiers would be able to accuse their weak-kneed leadership of caving, thereby enhancing their status within the party…

Now don’t get me wrong: Boehner clearly prefers to avoid a government shutdown. He’s spent months figuring out how to do that, fully aware of the political debacle it would entail. Unfortunately, it’s now clear that the only way he can induce the political isolation he typically relies on to prod his caucus into semi-rational action is by shutting down the government and inviting the public backlash he’s been so desperate to avoid. Boehner simply has no other way of talking sense into his people, no other hope of making the House GOP governable. And so, in the end, a shutdown is in Boehner’s interest, too.

Fortunately, a shutdown is almost certainly a good thing. Yes, it can slow the economy and wreak temporary havoc on people who rely on government services. But these consequences are nothing alongside the fallout from defaulting on our debt, which will happen if we don’t raise the debt ceiling by mid-October. That’s why Boehner’s inability to persuade conservatives to postpone their Obamacare demands until the debt-ceiling fight is in fact a hugely welcome development. It gives everyone a chance to sober up before we take on the substantially higher-stakes proposition of avoiding a debt default. In fact, if Boehner and the White House had both been a bit more pro-shutdown back in 2011, when this whole B-movie horror flick started, that year’s debt ceiling fight and the sequester may never have happened, and we might not be in the mess we’re in today. A little bit of shutdown, I’d wager, goes a long way.

But Elias Isquith casts some serious doubt on this scenario by asking one obvious question: What evidence do we have that a public smackdown of this type will make the Tea Party types be reasonable?

So to put Scheiber’s argument in different, cruder terms: the Tea Party wing of the GOP simply must have a government-paralyzing tantrum, and it’s better they have it over funding the government than over raising the debt ceiling. Once they blow off their steam, shut down the government, and find a public furious over further Washington dysfunction and inclined to blame it on the GOP, these Tea Party types will be chastised enough that the folks who now pass for the adults in the Republican leadership will be able to resume control. Then everyone shakes it off and gets back to the work of governing.

It doesn’t sound nice, exactly, but it does sound preferable to the all-out anarchy of a government shutdown immediately followed by a debt default. But what I don’t understand is why we believe these Tea Party folks will be more susceptible to reason after a shutdown than they are now? We seem to be putting a lot of faith behind the power of public opinion — yet at the same time it’s well understood that many Republicans only fear a primary challenge from their right, and that top-line public opinion doesn’t sway them.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think the Democrats really care. Sure, they’d like to keep the government functioning and they’d like the far-right caucus of the House Republicans to be reasonable. But politically, it may help them in 2014 if they’re not. If Republican legislators get primaried by candidates even further to the right, that works out just fine for the Democrats. If the public really does blame the Republicans for a shutdown, it makes it more likely that they could get control of the House back in 2014.

Comments

  1. raven says

    It looks like:

    1. The Tea Party seriously hates the US in general and the US government in particular.

    2. They are nihilists in the colloquil sense. They have nothing positive to offer, just hate and destruction.

    Maybe Toynbee was right. All civilizations end and the vast majority implode from within. I just hope it all holds together for my expected life span. Sorry about the kids though. We may be handing them a broken society and broken world.

  2. says

    As happens so often in history, the rich and powerful play their game of thrones without regards to the tragedies their games inflict on ordinary people.

    (And no, George R. R. Martin did not create the phrase.)

  3. raven says

    But here’s the thing: I don’t think the Democrats really care.

    I’m sure they do care.

    But what can they do? Nothing that I can see. If the House Tea Party wants to shut down the government, they can. It’s that democracy thing.

    It’s more like they are resigned. So am I. Nothing I can do either but donate some more money to the local Democrats even though I’m registered Independent.

  4. says

    Boehner simply has no other way of talking sense into his people, no other hope of making the House GOP governable. And so, in the end, a shutdown is in Boehner’s interest, too.

    So much for a “representative democracy” when your “representatives” (as usual) put their personal political careers ahead of the well-being of those they represent. I’m always amazed that anyone thinks representative democracy is a reasonable political system, given such obvious flaws – so well illustrated by horrible people like Boehner.

  5. doublereed says

    To me, this is people trying to look at the bright side of a shitty situation. I see no reason why a government shutdown would sway crazy people. They’re crazy. That’s the whole problem.

  6. says

    They are nihilists in the colloquil sense. They have nothing positive to offer, just hate and destruction.

    If you understand that that’s a caricature of nihilism (which you appear to do) why perpetuate it? Why not just call them ‘destructive assholes’ or ‘vandals’ or ‘poo flinging chimps’ or something more accurate and appropriate?

    It is not the scotsman fallacy to say “…no true nihilist’ in this case. No true nihilist would bother with the antics of the tea party. What’s the point?

  7. raven says

    If you understand that that’s a caricature of nihilism (which you appear to do) why perpetuate it?

    Because by estimation, 90% of the people that use the word, nihilism, mean it in the common sense without even knowing that there is a formal philosphy meaning.

    It goes off topic if you end up explaining something they have no interest in and will soon forget.

  8. AndrewD says

    You Know, as a European, the only sane explanation I can imagine for the Tea Party is that it is a Plot by another country to destroy the US. I would suggest the FBI investigates.

  9. raven says

    As a theoretical exercise, I wondered what would happen if the government gets shut down and they stop sending out Social Security and Medicare checks. Which after all, are government functions and programs used heavily by…the Tea Partyists, who tend to be very old and poor.

    Probably most of the Tea Party types would be dead in a month or two.

    It isn’t going to happen though. The government has already said they are going to send out the checks.

  10. bybelknap says

    The party that hates government, and thinks that government can’t do anything right, is the object lesson of its own philosophy.

  11. greg1466 says

    I’m with doublereed (#5). We’re talking about people who have clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that they are completely irrational and oblivious to reality. Any result, even the one they want, will only push them deeper into their delusion.

  12. zenlike says

    I like the optimism of these columnists. The hard fact is that even when the shut-down is clearly caused by the extreme wing of the R-party and by the inaction of the (so called) moderate R-party members to do anything about their extreme brothers and sisters, a large part of the population will still blame ‘Obama’ and the D-party for ‘spending too much’, and this misinformation will be gladly distributed by the R-party and their propaganda-machine (eg Fox). Whatever happens, a (much too large) part of the population will still go out and vote on the guy or gal with ‘R’ behind their name, even when they have previously shown that they are incapable of actually governing their country.

  13. raven says

    It’s no suprise that the Tea Party is actively, desperately trying to sabotage Obamacare, AKA, the Affordable Care Act.

    Which really is no big deal. It’s just an extension of what we already have to more people. People that could use it. And will benefit the for profit medical system and the insurance companies, both large parts of our capitalist society.

    It also looks like it won’t work. There is a lot of interest in the program and pre-enrollment is above projections.

    It’s too early to say what will happen since it hasn’t even started yet. But if they fail, and Obamacare succeeds, they are going to be in some sort of trouble.

  14. says

    raven “1. The Tea Party seriously hates the US in general and the US government in particular.”
    Lies! They love America so much that they’re willing to burn it all down to stop uninsured, working people who earn less than about 44 grand from getting subsidies for health insurance from private healthcare companies competing, with transparency and minimum standards for coverage, for customers on open public exchanges.

    [lengthy pause]

    Crap. It sounds insane when I say it out loud.

  15. says

    Will it sway the TP-ers in the House? Not a chance. They’ve already proven that they are impervious to reality. They will regard a shutdown as some kind of victory. The best we can hope for is that it will sway the voters in 2014. I don’t have a lot of hope for that, since the people who put these morons in office are quite capable of voting against their own self-interest, over and over again.

  16. acroyear says

    That observation about the Primary impact was pretty spot-on. The general public doesn’t vote in primaries. The hard-core extremists do.

    The general public thinks only November elections matter (and not even then), or that the Primaries only count for the Presidential election, much to the detriment of the country.

  17. says

    Marcus Ranum #4:

    So much for a “representative democracy” when your “representatives” (as usual) put their personal political careers ahead of the well-being of those they represent. I’m always amazed that anyone thinks representative democracy is a reasonable political system, given such obvious flaws – so well illustrated by horrible people like Boehner.

    I’d agree that there’s a hell of a lot that goes wrong there. I really can’t think of a way to redeem that part unless we can somehow get more reasonable people to think and act more locally so they pay more attention to their representatives. In that regard, the mainstream/old media’s effectively against us, since big networks would naturally favor covering national-level events that affect everyone over the niche market of local news. Even if we overcome that problem, I’m sure there’s plenty of manipulation by the two party system left to deal with, including the blocks that think party affiliation is more fundamental than a candidate’s policy issues.

    Back on the Tea Party and the shutdown: I won’t be making predictions about their response to a government shutdown or a popular backlash. In so many internet arguments, I’ve seen new depths and varieties of stupidity that I have to squash the thought of “this troll couldn’t possibly be that stupid” whenever it occurs. I’m looking at the Tea Party as the Troll Party, and I don’t want to be caught off guard by absurdities because I overestimated their capacity for reason. If they get a reality check and/or get crushed in elections by voter backlash, I’ll be pleased, but I won’t be counting on it.

  18. says

    Dave Maier “@15: I gotta say, Modus, you’ve been on fire recently.”
    I’m never not on fire. [Licks finger, touches hip, makes sizzle sound] Seriously, even my eyes smolder. [Licks finger, touches eye, cusses like a sailor]

  19. zero6ix says

    I imagine that should the shutdown take place, and should the country start to crumble, the Teabaggers will simply sing the next verse of the same song. “Why does the government love to watch us suffer? Where’s my medicare?”

    Then they’ll get it back, and start bitching about government doing too much. Sunrise, sunset.

  20. iknklast says

    One problem is that few people recognize what the government does for them. Here in the midwest, the assumption is that they get nothing from the government. This is from people who are getting at least half their income from farm subsidies, but because they are working as farmers, they don’t see this as government money. Ranchers here get rich off selling leases to graze government land, which the government spends huge amounts on and gets little back. In addition, most of my students are going to college on government grants, and whining about how the government isn’t doing anything for them (plus, it’s a public college, so it’s funded by our state and local tax dollars; cognitive dissonance, anyone?)

    Nearly every activity we do during an ordinary day is in some way or other reliant on government money, including turning on our lights, driving our cars, cooking our food, and taking our shower. When we flush the toilet, the government cleans up the mess we flush. But people have been raised on the myth of self-reliance. Government money to them means “welfare”, which means “lazy minorities that don’t do any work and suck away all my tax dollars”.

    Until people understand these basic things, they will not understand the problem of “drowning the government in a bathtub”. Would a shut down help them understand? I’m not sure. It seems like a dangerous experiment to me.

  21. busterggi says

    “Would a Govt. Shutdown Sway the Tea Party Types?’

    As one of their prominent spokesmen has said, “You can’t fix stupid”, so no it won’t.

  22. raven says

    Here in the midwest, the assumption is that they get nothing from the government. This is from people who are getting at least half their income from farm subsidies,..

    Yeah, I’ve seen that.

    Where my relatives used to live in the upper midwest is like that.

    It’s rural farming country and they get large amounts of money from the government. Irrigation programs, federal crop subsidies, CRP (conservation reserve program), wildlife management areas used for hunting, subsidized high speed internet, subsidized school system, and on and on. A lot of these government programs look like they are just paying the people to not move away and leave the area uninhabited. Which they do anyway, since they’ve been losing population for most of the last century.

    I estmate that half the county income is federal transfer payments.

    And oh yeah, they are mostly Tea Partiers, who hate the government.

  23. says

    Just to be clear, a government shutdown would not stop Social Security checks, or Medicare reimbursement, because that money doesn’t have to be appropriated. Not raising the debt limit, however, could stop SS, or at least require that it be reduced.

  24. lordshipmayhem says

    The Tea Partiers seem to be living in a bubble, and when bubbles burst from the sharp pin of reality, the people inside just don’t know how to react. Witness the batshittery that erupted when Obama was re-elected handily in the last election, despite the Faux News spin on the polls ahead of time.

    When the shutdown happens, and I believe at this rate that it’s going to be “when” and not “if”, they will continue to believe that it’ll be good for their re-election chances and will continue to act high-and-mighty. Any negative impact on their polling numbers will be simply dismissed.

  25. sezme says

    It is irrelevant whether the Tea Party types see the light or not. They are, what, 10% of the House. Let’s be generous and say 20%. Big biz acolytes and moderates will, in fact, finally be sufficiently fed up with these dolts that they will simply steam-roll over them. They are not as large nor as powerful as all the media attention they get.

    This stand-off might just be their apogee. If they get pushed aside after a shutdown, they won’t have much stroke when the debt ceiling comes up and after that they’ll just be useful for their entertainment value.

  26. Michael Heath says

    sezme writes:

    It is irrelevant whether the Tea Party types see the light or not. They are, what, 10% of the House. Let’s be generous and say 20%. Big biz acolytes and moderates will, in fact, finally be sufficiently fed up with these dolts that they will simply steam-roll over them. They are not as large nor as powerful as all the media attention they get.

    The, “Tea Party types” are far more prevalent than 10% to 20%. Instead they dominate the GOP within the House. Just the other day they overwhelmed the House leadership in a caucus meeting to the point House leadership has flipped to now advocating a government shut-down in order to de-fund Obamacare.

  27. dogmeat says

    Andrew @8

    You Know, as a European, the only sane explanation I can imagine for the Tea Party is that it is a Plot by another country to destroy the US. I would suggest the FBI investigates.a

    Actually I would look at it as a less extreme example (at least at this time) of what happened to Germany in the late 20s into early 30s. Economic circumstances have people pissed off, they respond by promoting far right-wing, increasingly reactionary political policies that utilize blame, rage, and in-group arguments to promote their agenda. The overall movement is progressively further and further to the right as conservative policies become increasingly unacceptable as more reactionary policies are adopted and declared “normal.” All previously “normal” polices are dismissed as radical. The in-group is promoted as the only legitimate representatives, the out-group is increasingly presented as not just wrong, but outright hostile to the greater entity and a threat to life itself. Once your opponent is no longer simply “wrong” but an “enemy,” then any breach of the system, any disruption of order, termination of services, etc., is entirely justified given that it is the “enemy” that caused it anyway.

  28. John Phillips, FCD says

    sezme, and to add to what Michael Heath wrote, they and their supporters are often the ones most active at the local level, i.e. primary fights, so even the threat that they might be primaried will often be enough to get more ‘moderate’ republicans on board with their demands. Just look at how many ‘moderate’ republicans have already been primaried out of existence or are likely to be in the next round of primaries if they don’t toe the tea party line. So while nationally they might be a small group overall, due to their power at the local level, in republican circles they swing far above their weight.

  29. dogmeat says

    Those who believe it will lead to a backlash against the Tea Party are misunderstanding the situation within the Congressional elections. The districts have been gerrymandered so badly in some states that it is virtually impossible for the Democrats to mount an effective challenge. Look at Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Michigan as prime examples. Democrats won those states for the presidential election, won the congressional vote in pure numbers, and were crushed in the actual district races; returning large Republican majorities to the House for each of them. The ability to manipulate state legislative races in concert with the existing gerrymandered districts means that it is highly unlikely for there to be a serious challenge from the Democrats in either one for the foreseeable future. Unlike the senate races where a wack-a-loon candidate will lead to the Republicans losing an erstwhile winnable race, congressional districts are nearly impossible to lose once they’ve been established with a party majority. In states where that hasn’t happened, look at the results. As batshit as Arizona has been otherwise, it’s congressional districts were set up by a bit-partisan panel balanced out by an independent. Despite the efforts by the wing-nut in chief and the legislature lunatics we have 9 rather competitive districts. Because of that, despite the fact that a wing-nut won the senate seat and Romney won the state, 5 of the 9 members of our congressional delegation are Democrats.

    In the states where things are less balanced, it would be highly unlikely for the Tea Party crowd to face serious challenges so they are equally unlikely to respond. The mainstream Republicans seem more afraid of internal challenges than they seem dedicated to breaking the Tea Party movement so they are unlikely to side with the Democrats.

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