Shutdown 2013: Acts of Self-Interest

 /  Nov. 18, 2013, 7:30 a.m.


Once the US government shutdown began, everyone blamed the opposing party. President Obama and Congressional Democrats accused Republicans of taking the government hostage and asking for ransom. Republicans claimed they sought a compromise, and accused the Democrats of refusing to negotiate. Both point of views are right. Republicans let the government shutdown because they were not getting what they wanted, and Obama, who negotiated with the Republicans during the similar crisis in 2011, took a different course this time. The ransom demanded by the Republicans was nothing new; since 1977, the US has had seventeen partial government shutdowns. Most came to a close with a compromise.

Do not get me wrong, the Republicans were not right to all the government to close down, but they were not acting without precedent, and their expectations of a compromise reflected what had been achieved in the past. Obama could have negotiated with the Republicans, making concessions to end the shutdown earlier. Yet he and the other Democrats made the political calculations and decided that prolonging the standoff was the wisest political move. Whether Obama will have the backbone next time is not a clear, and that fight is fast approaching. If Obama and the Democrats want to prove their stance was motivated by their party’s principles, they should do more than just standing their ground when it was beneficial for them. A pledge to never use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip if the situation is reversed would be a nice start.

The Democratic Party has also failed to provide a solution to the gridlocked currently plaguing Congress. They blame the Tea Party Republicans for the whole mess, but have not yet explained how the conservative faction so easily exerted power in the house. Most of the Republicans in the House still voted against ending the shutdown. The answer to that is gerrymandering. As Democrats gained in the polls to a point where they can take back the House, they probably felt no need to address this problem. Some even say this might signal the end of the Republican Party. Yet, what is disregarded here is that Tea Party Republicans are not the ones usually found in toss-up districts. Their seats are safe both in primaries, where Tea Party activists are a force to be reckoned with, and in their heavily Republican districts or states. If there is a true loser of this fight, it is the moderate Republicans, who represent more competitive districts. Just as 2010 and then redistricting in 2012 decimated the ranks of moderate Blue Dog Democrats, so may the 2014 and 2016 elections damage the standing of moderate Republicans. That will lead to even more partisanship in Congress.

Democrats are not trying as hard to solve the problem of gerrymandering, because they are confident they will turn the tables and benefit from that at one point, for the majority of the Republican caucus in the house gerrymandering is the only reason they will be able to keep their house seat for long, so they won’t try to address this problem too. If both parties continue along these lines, the US will see more pointless fights, and Tea Party Republicans will not be the only ones to blame. After the end of the shutdown, both sensible Democrats and Republicans now have a choice to make: whether to act in their own self-interest and only fight over the symptoms of the problem, or serve the public as they were elected to do, and address the real causes of the problem, which in this case is gerrymandering.

Kaan Ulgen


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