When Democrats do it, it’s not a government shutdown

For at least a generation, the gold standard for dangerous hypocrisy justifying the abuse of power was former President Richard M. Nixon. The 37th President demonstrated his perilous lack of self-awareness in exquisitely succinct fashion when he told Sir David Frost that there are moments when it is necessary, even laudable, for the executive to break the law.


“Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” Nixon told his interlocutor. For decades, the ghastly hubris displayed in this comment appalled both the conscientious left and the right.

As long as it comes from the mouth of an ideological ally, the paradoxical nature of this statement would probably be lost on today’s liberals. The ends, it seems, increasingly justify the means.

Take, for example, the analysis of Brian Beutler, of the gutted New Republic, on how Hill Democrats are reacting to the hideously named “Cromnibus” (a funding package designed to keep the government open while setting up the fight in 2015 over de-funding the president’s unilateral extension of legal status to millions of illegal immigrants).

That $1.1 trillion measure has ignited outrage on both the right and the left. Populist conservatives are appalled at the spending in that budget deal, for which the only concession Republicans exacted from Democrats were the loosening of restrictions on Wall Street contained within Dodd-Frank.

“You can tell how complete Boehner’s capitulation is by the fact that Democrats are willingly going along with the farce that this is a Republican principles bill while admitting that their votes are necessary to save the bill,” wrote RedState’s Leon Wolf. “Instead they are sending out a couple safe Dems to mount token public opposition for their base while (not very subtly) smiling that for the next year the Republicans will not be able to provoke budget fights over anything including a meaningful fight over Obama’s wildly unpopular executive amnesty.”


According to Beutler, the Democratic opposition to this bill is not “token” at all. In fact, it is indicative of how the party will comport itself in the minority.

Needing votes is a matter of mathematical precision. Deciding what’s responsible and what isn’t is a matter of subjective judgment. A subtext of her comment is that [House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is] the House Democrat best positioned to make that determination. Three days later, she’s taking her own analysis out of the abstract, and testing critics, who have urged her to relinquish power.

This afternoon, her office has issued at least five urgent press releases, threatening implicitly to pull Democratic support for legislation to fund the government unless Republicans strip a provision from that bill that would allow FDIC-backed financial institutions to trade a wider range of derivatives, after the Dodd-Frank financial reform law relegated many such trades to uninsured subsidiaries. Translated: if John Boehner and Republicans insist on keeping this rider in the bill, they will shut down the government.

“Shut down the government?” It doesn’t sound like Republicans are inclined to pursue this course at all. In fact, it sounds like Democrats are the party most eager for that outcome.

“Here, in microcosm, is the Democratic old guard making the case that they’re actually best prepared to lead the party in the minority, by showing that Democrats know how to exact a toll when Republicans use their power to advance unpopular aspects of their agenda quietly,” Beutler concludes.


And you thought that a government shutdown was the ultimate demonstration of a party’s intransigence and unwillingness to serve as a responsible partner in governance. That’s so 2013.

Beutler doesn’t sound nearly as opposed to this course of action as he was when Republicans embarked on this disastrous course. Perhaps he is so self-assured in his apparent support for Democratic shutdown brinkmanship because he continues to believe, as he wrote in Salon in 2013, that Republicans will “always (rightly) be blamed for shutdowns.”

“Voters might not be attuned to the minutiae of policy, but I think they know pretty well which party cares more about government employees and keeping the government in working order,” he wrote. “You can’t just camouflage a decades long raison d’être with a handful of messaging votes.”

In short, Democratic partisans will always extend Democrats the benefit of the doubt.

Beutler’s prognosis above does, however, contrast with his analysis just prior to the shutdown that also appeared in Salon.

“[A shutdown is] perhaps the only way to persuade monomaniacal House Republicans that there’s a difference between negotiation and extortion,” Beutler asserted, “that if their extreme demands touch off a visible crisis like a government shutdown, everyone will know who’s at fault. That’d be great for Democrats for obvious reasons.”

Heads, I win. Tails, you lose.


A government shutdown led by Democrats might be the unlikeliest of outcomes ahead of the next Congress. Contrary to Beutler’s analysis, the party that shuts down the government is the party that is most likely to be blamed for that suboptimal state of affairs. The wounded Democratic Party can hardly afford to alienate more Americans.

It is worth noting that for some partisans, however, a government shutdown becomes a bold and attractive course of action when it is their side that is doing the obstruction.

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