This item by James Vega was originally published on September 21, 2013.
The general assumption behind most progressive discussion lately has been that the GOP will shoulder most of the blame if there is a government shutdown. The two main arguments for this view are that opinion polls currently show voters will blame GOP more and that the Republicans were generally blamed for the previous shutdown in 1994.
But neither of these arguments are fully convincing. For one thing the opinion poll results are deeply dependent on question wordings which tend to suggest the shutdown is being promoted by the GOP. Equally, there is a major, indeed fundamental difference between the 1994 shutdown and one today. In 1994 GOP proudly took credit and ownership of the shutdown. Today, they are already trying to avoid responsibility by promoting the notion that it is Obama and the Democrats who are refusing to “compromise.” “After all”, they say innocently, they are just asking for a tiny little “delay.”
Now it is true that if the Republicans are forced into taking a clear “make or break” vote on shutting down the government in order to defund Obamacare – and the media presents it that framework – the GOP will probably shoulder most of the blame.
But if the final legislative maneuvers involve a series of votes on different aspects of the budget (the sequester, funding levels etc.) as well as defunding Obamacare, confusion is extremely likely to occur. As Mike Tomasky notes:
Without a vote defunding Obamacare, only a relatively small percentage of the population can probably keep track of what’s going on. It’s an argument about the sequester and funding levels. That’s an argument that any reasonably skilled pol can fudge and turn into a situation that leaves most observers walking away thinking well, they’re both probably lying, and the truth is somewhere in the middle, and they’re both to blame.
An honest media that properly focused on the fact that a political party that lost the last election is using the threat of economic blackmail to overturn a law duly passed by congress might limit this problem. But the simple reality is that today’s media has been completely intimidated by conservatives to the point where they will wiggle and twist to avoid saying this clearly and directly. Instead, they will “split the difference,” suggesting that Obama really ought to consider “compromising.” They will admit that the GOP’s actions are unprecedented and extreme, but they will unctuously mutter that Obama’s compromising would be “for the good of the country” and that “someone has to be the adult in the room” and so on and so on with groveling commentary.
This nonsense will further muddy the waters and produce even more ambivalence on opinion surveys. A vicious cycle will develop in which the more fanatical and extreme the GOP resistance becomes, the more the mainstream media will turn its criticism on Obama for failing to “solve the problem” i.e. capitulate.
To repeat, much will depend on the exact way the last minute voting on the budget proceeds. But Democrats should be prepared for a scenario in which the mainstream media once again becomes the GOP’s secret weapon and political “fifth column.”