The Finger of Blame Points Only One Way

Sorry to subject you to another post about the pending government shutdown (It's Friday—shouldn't I be writing about robots? Maybe later.), but I just want to make this point briefly. As we approach and perhaps reach a shutdown, Republicans are going to try very hard to convince people that this is all Barack Obama's fault. I'm guessing that right now, staffers in Eric Cantor's office have formed a task force to work day and night to devise a Twitter hashtag to that effect; perhaps it'll be #BarackOshutdown or #Obamadowner or something equally clever. They don't have any choice, since both parties try to win every communication battle. But they're going to fail. The public is going to blame them. It's inevitable. Here's why.

1. Only one side is making a substantive demand.

The Democrats' position is let's not shut down the government, because that would be bad. They aren't asking for any policy concessions. The Republican position, on the other hand, is if we don't get what we want, we'll force the government to shut down. So from the start, Republicans look like (and are) the ones forcing the crisis.

2. The demand Republicans are making is absurd and everyone knows it.

Even many Republicans admit that it's ridiculous to think Barack Obama would destroy his signature accomplishment, the most meaningful piece of domestic legislation in decades. If I say to you, "Would it be OK if I took your car, killed your dog, and burned down your house?" and you say "No, that would not be OK," no one is going to accuse you of being the unreasonable one.

3. The Republicans have done this before.

It happened when Bill Clinton was president (you can look here if you've forgotten how that turned out), and we've been through this cycle of threats of a shutdown more recently. Everyone is familiar with the pattern, and nothing about this particular iteration is going to be understood any differently. Which leads us to the most important reason:

4. Republicans are the ones who hate government, and Democrats are the ones who defend it.

This is the heart of it. After so many decades of Republicans saying that government is evil, trying to slash it in a hundred ways, and more recently saying that they don't think a shutdown would be all that bad, it will be all but impossible for them to convince people that they're the ones who want government to stay open. Even if it were true (which it isn't) they wouldn't be able to convince people of it. They're the anti-government party. That's who they are. They worked very hard to create that image. So the universal default assumption is that when there's a question of who's responsible for shutting down the government, Republicans are the ones who are doing it, and persuading people that the opposite is true just isn't going to happen.

I'm sure that at some point, Republicans will start arguing that because of some procedural detail (i.e. that the House passed a continuing resolution), they're the ones who are moving forward while responsibility for the shutdown lays with Barack Obama. No one bought that when Newt Gingrich was Speaker (remember, that shutdown was triggered by a Clinton veto of a spending bill), and no one's going to buy it now.

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