Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Editorial: Fear leadership, not shutdown

The unnamed Courier editor posits that a federal government shutdown won't hurt anyone, so there's no reason not to do it. What he fails to offer is why it would be a good thing beyond its entertainment value.

This is another case of arguing from thin air.  The piece assumes that the reader already understands the situation as the editor understands it, and only needs reassurance that the action both the editor and this imaginary reader want will be painless.

It's possible the editor is doing this innocently, naive in the assumption that most everyone is like him. More often writers use this tactic willfully and underhandedly, to lull the reader into the idea that everyone thinks this way and so the reader should too.

The reader should be suspicious of this position, and not just because of the obvious propaganda techniques employed to sell it. A government shutdown does not mean that the government stops working. It means government workers and contractors just don't get paid.

With three wars in the field, this has some pretty serious implications for our military personnel and families. While there is a bill working through to maintain the flow of active military pay, the services that support those personnel aren't in it.

The shutdown will certainly disrupt most federal public services -- courts, parks, highways, health care, food and product safety, supply contracts, patents, housing, reservations, you name it. To say this will carry no pain is, again, naive at best. 

But the gaping hole in the argument is that there really is no reason for the Republicans to withhold their cooperation from the majority in fulfilling the most important responsibility of Congress, other than to make a political point that can only be sensibly translated as "do what I want or I'll take my ball and go home!" The editor seems to be saying that he'd prefer a non-functioning government to one run by Democrats. That's just asinine, as I know a lot of Republicans would agree.

I have no doubt whatever that there will be pain from a shutdown, not least for the Republicans who are engineering it. So if there were no pain for ordinary people, I'd say bring it on, the result will be politically positive. But it's just not like that. Playing brinksmanship for a couple of days won't matter much, but going beyond a week will guarantee real hurt for a lot of Americans.

"Fear leadership"? Does the editor really think that's a sensible idea? Yikes.

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