Friday, 4 October 2013

Cognitive Dissonance: The Madness of Cut Kings

The great big, fat lie that is most often repeated about the government shutdown in the US is that it is a fault of 'government'; it is the system that is broken; it is the partizan culture that is to blame; both parties have failed America.

Poppycock. Horse hockey. Fliberty flobbing of the highest order. Indeed, I say: pish-posh and tish to that rotgut.

This is a video from a Tea Party rally in March 2011, at about 2:50 the chant of "Cut it or shut it" can be heard, along with "Shut it down" references in the speeches throughout:

This is the right wing of the Republican party demanding a government shutdown if their cuts are not accepted. There are many other examples, both before and since, where Republican members of congress promised to shutdown the government to get their way. Do note the total lack of substance in everything everybody says in this video. Note also that there appear to be more speakers than attendees at this Washington gathering.

For clarity, the budget they were talking about cutting was cut. They got what they wanted in terms of spending levels. Here's a chart demonstrating that:

The continuing resolution (CR) the Senate has approved, is set to fund the government at $986 billion, which is over $200 billion less than President Obama's budget and over $100 billion less than Paul Ryan's original austere budget and only $19 billion more than the 2014 Ryan budget, otherwise known as "Ayn Rand's lovechild with Ebeneezer Scrooge."

What I'm saying is: The Republicans got what they wanted. They "Cut it". I'm here to tell you they "Shut it" anyway. "Why?" you ask, doubtlessly praying I don't give you another flood of figures to skate over.

There seems to be some confusion over that. Leading up to and on day one and two of the shutdown, Republicans did what they could to blame President Obama and Senate Democrats, organising a photo opportunity with themselves (eight white guys) sitting at a table across from nobody:

They also circulated the talking-point that President Obama would negotiate with extremist mullahs in Iran but not with House Republicans. As has been pointed out many times, that really says more about how they're acting than about the President.

They seem to have switched tactics, recognising that they weren't moving the public perception needle with "Blame Obama", and have decided to be seen proclaiming how happy they are to have shut the government, while decrying the fact that the government is shut.

It is as if some strategist has sat them down and said: "You see, the effects of a government shutdown are only going to be bad, so it is best to distance yourself from them, but the government itself is unpopular, especially with the right-wing base, so associating yourself with shutting it down is a win." This is how you get a Tea Party congressman who voted for the government shutdown berating a park ranger for not allowing entrance to a monument which is closed because of the government shutdown.

Time will tell if this mind-warping sleight of hand works. I can't tell if it's as dumb as it sounds, or the work of some unheralded strategic genius with access to studies suggesting American voters cannot link cause and effect. The presence of a number of other Republican members of Congress at that event confirms, in my eyes, that this represents a strategy rather than an accident.

With the cuts they demanded being offered to them after they threatened to shut the government down, House Republicans demanded that Obamacare be delayed by a year, again threatening that they'll shut the government down. This threat didn't work twice, so they shut down the government, hoping that Obama would cave. It's not going to work and they know that it's not going to work, so they've basically given up on this line of attack.

Which leaves us with a problem: there is no specific demand that the Republicans are making that will be addressed by the Senate or the President. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is settled law and is going ahead on schedule, having been the subject of two presidential elections and a case at the Supreme Court. Obama has no need to negotiate on that. Everyone now realises this. But the government is still shut. Hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed. Millions will start to feel the pain shortly.

Republican Congressman Marlin Stutzman really summed things up when he said: "We don't want to be disrespected. And so that's where we're at today, where we have to get something out of this and I don't know what that even is."

To sum-up: "Cut it or Shut it? Hell, why choose? Let's have it all! We closed the government, conservative America: rejoice! In unrelated news: The government is closed, conservative America: Outrage! Down with Obamacare! We can't get rid of it? Don't disrespect me! I want something! I need something! SOMETHING!"

The problem, as I see it, is this: Tea Party members define themselves as not for anything, but as being against President Obama. Look at how they started: They were given the biggest tax cut ever by Obama early in his first term and then they complained about a hike in taxes. They are thus definitely not an issue group.

They are an anti-Obama group.

President Obama, being a Democrat and therefore at least part pussy, caved to their demands for cuts. They did not compromise. They voted for the sequester, cutting funding haphazardly, and they were outraged at "Obama's Sequester." The opportunity to shut the government came at the same time as The ACA's Health Exchanges went online: they tied the two together and tried to make it seem as if Obamacare was the reason the government shut down. That failed.

Because they define themselves as anti-Obama alone, they cannot be negotiated with, something that Obama has learned. Whatever he gives them, they will want more. Give them what they want and they never wanted it. Cut their taxes and they complain about a tax hike.

They are a mad group. There is no power of reason that can understand their workings. They take as fact what we laugh at as morbid fantasy. They laugh at settled science as lies.

What will happen? Long term: they will fall apart, probably in some sort of intra-mural purity squabble. Short term: they have already won, now they will proclaim defeat.

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