Ringside Seat: It's All in the Details

As a number of commentators have pointed out in the last few days, with the sequester looming, the Democrats have a single message they're sending to the public. Republicans, on the other hand, are a bit more muddled. The former say that this will be a disaster, with effects seen in every corner of the country and in too many areas of American life to count. The latter say that it was all Barack Obama's idea, so blame him (even if Republicans voted for it), and besides, Democrats are exaggerating how bad it'll be. But Republicans are facing what they've faced in previous showdowns: When you actually shut down the government or cut it back drastically, the debate moves from the abstract to the specific. And that's not where they want to be. 

For many decades, political scientists have known that as a group, Americans are "symbolic conservatives" but "operational liberals." They like the idea of "small government," as long as you're staying at that level of abstraction. But they also like—and want to spend more on—just about everything government does. So when Republicans talk about small government, it sounds good to most Americans. Once the sequester hits at the end of this week, however, the discussion is going to get very specific very quickly. When Head Start is being cut back, when school personnel are being laid off, when federal employees are being sent home without pay, when food production slows because there are fewer inspectors, when lines at the airport are getting longer—and when the news media are reporting it all as it's happening—it will be awfully hard for Republicans to say, "Hey, we need smaller government!" Because smaller government is exactly what we'll be getting, and it won't be pretty.

Which means that politically, Democrats will be doing quite well when the sequester hits. The damage the country takes, on the other hand, will depend on how long it lasts. You'd think that after going around this track a few times, the GOP would realize that they're going to lose eventually, so it might be better to end the crisis before it starts. Maybe someday they will.

 

So They Say

"When I went through the process of becoming press secretary, one of the first things they told me was, ‘You’re not even to acknowledge the drone program. You’re not even to discuss that it exists. I would get a question like that and literally I couldn’t tell you what Major [Garrett] asked, because once I figured out it was about the drone program, I realize I’m not supposed to talk about it."

Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

 

Daily Meme: All Sequester Politics Are Local

  • The sequester approacheth, and the White House is making one last-ditch effort to force Congress to compromise. The plan? Getting individual states to care about what the cuts entail.
  • So far, it seems to be working. Newspapers from Maine to California are covering what the sequester could mean for locals, threatening to make the legislative branch's approval ratings go lower than krill on the ocean's food chain. 
  • In Indiana, 190 teacher and teachers' aide jobs would be at risk if the cuts happen, and Head Start would be eliminated for around 1,000 kids.
  • Vermont would lose over a million dollars in environmental funding, and over $300,000 in wildlife and fish protection. 
  • Nearly 8,000 Customs and Border Protection workers in Texas will face reduced work hours.
  • Mississippi will be unable to give financial aid to 510 low-income students seeking to go to college.
  • In New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, 12,670 children would be forced twofer vaccinations.
  • On its own, New York would lose $275 million in federal aid for popular programs and industries.
  • Louisiana would be unable to provide substance-abuse treatment for 1,300 people.
  • A hundred disadvantaged children with working parents would go without child care in Montana. 
  • When you tally all the losses that come in the wake of the sequester, it makes Congress look truly bad—perhaps just the pressure it needs to play nice and make a deal. Or not

What We're Writing

  • In the first of a three-part series on defense spending, Jeremiah Goulka asks what our military does nowadays, and whether it squares with its mission to protect the homeland. Hint: It doesn't.
  • Sharon Lerner implores you to not get on Team Slaughter or Team Sandberg.

What We're Reading

  • Ryan Lizza looks at Eric Cantor and his Republican remodeling ambitions.
  • Noam Scheiber examines the history behind the myth of newly martyred Aaron Swartz. 
  • Carol Rosenberg has been owning the Guantanamo Bay beat for years. Here's her insight on what it's like in America's most controversial detention center.
  • Julia Whitty reports on the Pentagon's new efforts to green up the military. 
  • Steve Coll #realtalk: "The empirical case for a worldwide state of war against a corporeal thing called Al Qaeda looks increasingly threadbare. A war against a name is a war in name only."
  • Will Chris Van Hollen be the next House Speaker? Robert Draper weighs his chances. 
  • Inept Republican attempts to attack evolution in schools always made for entertaining news—until they started working. Beginning with with Texas and moving across the country, Christianity is on the curriculum.
  • Mitch McConnell is our least popular Senator and getting less so. He's been coming under attack for his uncompromising stance on assault weapons and other reforms, and even gun-friendly Kentuckians aren't happy about him.
  • Sequester, sequester, sequester. Here are 12 ways that letting it happen will screw the poor.
  • President Obama put preschool on the agenda at the State of the Union, but even universal enrollment won't be enough without follow-up through the rest of childhood education—piecemeal is a dirty word for a reason.

Poll of the Day

Part of the GOP's hope for the future is that Hispanics' Catholicism will eventually bring them around on social issues. Gallup has a poll out today, however, that indicates Hispanic Catholics are only three percent more likely to be "very religious" than Catholics at large (43 percent). Thirty-three percent of younger Hispanics describe themselves as "moderately religious" and 24 percent as "not religious.

Prospect intern Jon Coumes contributed to today's Ringside Seat

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