The Shutdown, and the Sickness at Our Core


To me, the most ominous feature of this political moment is the fact that most of the American people appear to regard “shutting down the government” as so dangerous, so frightful, so morally detestable, that they will suffer virtually anything, including the horrors of Obamacare, to avert such Days of Doom.

Many of our fellow citizens do not realize, even after 20 years of threats and experiments in this field, that the real effects of the “shutdown” will be minimal. It will mean a short-term lapse of certain “non-essential government services” (there being thousands of such services deemed essential). But I think that most people do realize that. Nevertheless, they are unwilling to part with even a few of the alleged benefits of government, even temporarily, even for an important cause. In other words, they are willing to burden themselves and everyone else with trillions of dollars of debt, to support programs that most of them heartily dislike, at the behest of lawmakers whom they scorn and ridicule, merely to avoid . . . what? Not getting their mail on Saturday? But they probably will get their mail on Saturday.

I know many people who will fight almost to the death to avoid paying for some item they bought that turned out to be defective, but who rant against the Republicans for resisting Obamacare with the only weapons that are available. None of these people happen to be on the government dole, at least in any way that could conceivably be affected by a “government shutdown.” They all have their own, big beefs with government, and do not hesitate to talk about them. Yet this is how they behave.

The usual explanation for such behavior is “cognitive dissonance”: a clash between two attitudes, both of them devoutly held but each in opposition to the other. Yet in cognitive dissonance theory, people try to find some way of reconciling their opposing attitudes, or at least of rationalizing the opposition. That is not happening now. Our fellow citizens simply announce their hatred for government and their hatred for anyone who tries to act against government.

I am afraid that we are witnessing one of those phenomena that signal a deep sickness within a culture, a sickness for which no name or diagnosis appears to be available. You can see it, but you don’t know what it is.

The woodland Indians of North America valued an attitude of grave deliberation, often spending days or weeks in solemn meditation on the right course to take on issues of practical or moral import. Yet their favorite entertainment was the fiendish torture of other human beings, conducted amid scenes of riotous celebration and clinical interest in every detail of suffering. Something, clearly, was amiss — but nobody thought there was, or tried to reconcile the conflict.

Our fellow citizens simply announce their hatred for government and their hatred for anyone who tries to act against government.

When you watch reports of a political demonstration in the Middle East, what do you see? Usually it is a crowd of young men dressed in designer jeans and the latest sneakers, riotously denouncing Western culture and appropriating every possible Western means of communication to advertise their denunciations. Again, one can see the symptoms of some deep internal conflict, but the conflict inspires no reflection among the participants.

I would consider it wrong for someone on welfare, or Social Security, or a government payroll, to advocate strong government, lecture everyone about the virtue of following government orders, and denounce opponents of big government as anarchists. This would, however, be readily understandable, self-consistent, and in its way psychologically healthy: you benefit from big government; therefore, you openly advocate it. But so far, only Harry Reid, a creature from outer space, has done that; only he has called the opponents of big government “anarchists.” Tens of millions of other citizens lament the government and all its works, as if they themselves were anarchists, while simultaneously resenting and denouncing the very idea of “shutting” it.

In this way — this way alone, but it’s an important way — they are sick, and Harry Reid is healthy. There is something very wrong with this picture.

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Richard Parker

I have some sympathy for the House Republicans on this issue, but last night I polled the History: US Constitution class I am teaching undergrads.

The score 0-8 against the Republicans. If you are under 30 the Republican name is mud.

Jon Harrison

I've been trying to explain that fact to people for about eight years now.


Yellowstone Park is without fences. Elk, wolves, coyotes, Bald Eagles, and all the other wildlife within the park are free to come and go across park boundaries* without a problem. Humans, however, are not granted such liberty. Today in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle newspaper it was announced that only citizens of Silvergate, MT and Cooke City, MT are free to use US Hwy 212 to access their community. They must have a "yellow sticker" on their autos, allowing them to pass through the "closed" gates of the park. Park rangers will patrol the roads to make certain these folks don't stop to enjoy the park.

Are these rangers to be paid during the government shutdown, or are they working for free. If the latter, why can't they work for free to keep the park open? It's very funny and perplexing. I wonder if folks are allowed to hike along the highway on its shoulder, part of the legal right-of-way? Perhaps I'll go do it and find out just what law(s) I might be breaking by doing so.

*There are no fences around Yellowstone National Park.

Fred Mangels

I'll admit to not getting around much, but I can't help but wonder if all that many people really care about the supposed shutdown? I'm wondering if the outrage is more a fabrication of the mainstream media?

Other than some local left wing bloggers, who are criticizing the shutdown as a generic attack on Republicans, I haven't met anybody in person that really cares much, if at all, about it.

Jon Harrison

Government shutdowns never bother me. I do think it's unfair that some of the workers who will stay on the job -- air traffic controllers, for instance -- will not get their paychecks until the shutdown is resolved. That seems wrong to me. Even worse is the fact that Congress will continue to get paid. That ought to be corrected by legislation as soon as possible. No pay for Congress during a shutdown!

Bruce Hendricks

Unfair for government wokers to miss a packcheck? Perhaps, although life itself is unfair...Speaking of which, while shedding tears for the unfortunate masses suffering through this great economy for the past 5 plus years engineered by the best and brightest.


I don't think anyone should get paid. However, they should get back-pay IF they keep working during the shutdown. Those who don't should lose the pay they'd have received during the shutdown period.

This whole episode simply illustrates once again why most government functions should be privatized and operated for user-fees. Then, during a shutdown, they'd have incentive to keep serving the public -- the profit they would otherwise forego. What we now have is simply an organized hostage taking: the taking of our services until we pay-up by having our Reps vote for more spending.

I say shut it down for a long, long time, and quit paying folks to keep anything shut. If they're worried about security in Yellowstone Park, then go back to work and open it up.

Jon Harrison

I agree with you. I would say "some" or "many" government functions rather than "most", but otherwise I agree completely.

Jon Harrison

Shutting down the government will not get rid of Obamacare. There is only one weapon available to the Republicans if they want to abolish Obamacare, and that's winning elections. If they take control of the Senate and the White House while holding their majority in the House of Representatives, they can then repeal the law. Obamacare was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. Like it or not, it's the law of the land. The grandstanding that's been going on is all about playing to the base, it has nothing to do with getting rid of Obamacare. A ten-year-old can see that.

Jordan S. Bassior

Shutting down the government will not get rid of Obamacare.

Obama has not shut down the government in order to get rid of Obamacare, but to pressure the Republicans to submit a budget that funds it.

Oh, you expected me to assume that it was the Congress shutting down the government? Sorry, I've actually read the Constitution.

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