Mara Liasson is not a dumb reporter, but her piece today on NPR looking at the various political miscalculations that "led" to the government shutdown, called "How Political Miscalculations Led To The Shutdown Standoff", is a classic overthink about what has happened. As such, it's pretty dumb.
It's really not that hard to understand what led to the shutdown: a far-right faction of the political spectrum within the US citizenry has taken control of one of the two major parties, and by flirting with default, it is now playing politics in a very different way to what we've been accustomed for a very long time in this country. It's not because--as Liasson seems to believe--Boehner misread Obama's resolve, or the Democrats "assumed the Speaker had a plan for what he and his members needed to make a deal".
While these may be scenes in the play, they ain't what's driving the plot. The reason why we have a government shutdown is because the Tea Party caucus came up with this plan, and nobody in the Republican Party had the foresight, the desire, the willpower, or even the ability to derail their train of madness that has already adversely affected hundreds of thousands and just might possibly bring the whole economy crashing down on our heads. Any news story that purports to analyze the situation in Washington that does not start with this observation is misleading the public. Nothing Boehner or Obama or Harry Reid or Eric Cantor did over the past several months was going to change this outcome. It might have played out slightly differently, and it might have been portrayed differently, but what conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer has dubbed "the suicide caucus" wanted this fight since Obama was elected, and they've finally gotten it, and nothing--nothing--was going to prevent them from having this fight.
As for the part where Liasson suggests that Democrats assumed Boehner had a way out, she quotes nobody and provides no evidence that Dems would believe such a thing. She might be right, but I've been watching this thing from afar for months and I didn't think Boehner had a plan. Indeed, I assumed he had no plan precisely because he misread the President's resolve (and I wasn't convinced that the Speaker was wrong, either: if the Prez is going to cave in the 9th hour anyway, why have Plan B?) Moreover, Boehner has repeatedly moved his own goalposts throughout the past year in further acquiescence to his right flank; why on earth would anyone think he knew how to square the circle of the budget shutdown given how far he's been pushed?
At any rate, the fight is now upon us. It is a real political fight, with very high stakes, which is to say the stakes do not involve the careers or popularity of a small number of politicians from either party whose fortunes rise and fall with well- or poorly-played maneuvers, but rather affects all manner of hidden infrastructural details of our lives. What made the Tea Party what it is, is certainly a complicated topic worthy of all sorts of analysis, and we could fill up dozens of op-ed columns well into the future describing the demographic trends, social issues, splintering of the media and all manner of factors that has led to their rise in influence. And yes, we could even evaluate the misunderstandings from those on the left, right and center that allowed the Tea Party to achieve what it has thus far, if "achievement" is the apt description.
But why we have this fight right now is no real mystery. To treat it, as Liasson has done here, as a complex game of insider baseball, with important players trying and failing to read the situation, is to profoundly misrepresent what has happened in Washington. The reason why we have a shutdown is because we have the Tea Party--full stop. They do not share the same assumptions as most Americans about how to achieve their political aims in a representative democracy; they are playing by a new, very different, and I would argue, scary set of rules. Their kind has always been part of the American story, but with the sole exception of the Civil War, they have never been so organized nor wielded such political clout. They wanted this moment, and now we are here. Boehner could not have stopped it. Obama could not have stopped it. Harry Reid could not have stopped it. What happens next is anyone's guess.
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