How the shutdown could come back to haunt Democrats

t’s a big problem for progressives that many of the valuable investments government makes are invisible to most Americans unless we’re unlucky enough to be on WIC, live next to a Superfund site, or obsess over monthly economic0statistics reports (even if those of us who are obsessed with those statistics reports have a delusional tendency to project this malady onto others).

And we also know that it has been politically helpful in the short term for Democrats to cast Tea Party Republicans’ budget hostage-taking as a reckless and extreme threat to both our national well-being and our constitutional system (as indeed that hostage-taking is). Saying that House Republicans are forcing us to temporarily suspend approximately 17 percent of government operations just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

But there’s a less obvious but very real risk in actively messaging to people that the government is “shut down” when most of it is not shut down. That’s the kind of talk that makes people think their tax money really is wasted—that all it does is fund a few memorials and monuments and national parks—and leads to all kinds of “keep your government hands off my Medicare”-ism. It’s a way of describing the situation that allows opponents of the government to taunt: If these employees are so evidently “non-essential,” why do we need them in the first place?