Editor’s note: The following opinion piece was submitted before the House of Representatives agreed on a deal to end the shutdown.
Since the recent government shutdown began, I’ve been hearing talk of Republicans holding the government “hostage.” At first I agreed; it seemed that the Republicans’ demands and their threats of keeping the government shut seemed very much like a hostage situation to me. Then I started thinking: What is the most important factor in hostage negotiation? The obvious answer is that, after all demands have been met, the hostage taker will release the hostage unharmed. That’s where the hostage situation analogy began to crumble. After all, what is the goal of fiscally conservative Republicans other than to cut government presence?
This isn’t a hostage situation; hostage situations are meant to be a means to an end. They are meant to create a scenario in which the hostage-taker has leverage to bargain for what he or she really wants. Isn’t a government shutdown precisely what many Republicans dream of, though? After all, with so many government programs defunded and so much spending slashed, the government has definitely reduced its influence in citizens’ daily lives. Now, of course, some of the spending cuts have defunded programs that Republicans support, but they seem to have gained much more from this shutdown than they’ve lost. There doesn’t seem to be anything they would gain through negotiation that would be better than what they have now. With the setup as it stands, why would they ever want to negotiate at all?
Actually, when you think about it, do they really want to negotiate at all? Of course they say that they do, but what have they done to create reasonable negotiation? Nothing. In fact, this whole mess was created by unreasonable demands in the first place. Republicans refused to pass a spending bill unless it defunded or delayed the Affordable Care Act. In hindsight, it seems rather obvious that the Senate wouldn’t agree to that. With that in mind, the only possible conclusions I can gather are that Republicans either overestimated the power of the threat of a shutdown, or they knew exactly what would happen and made such unreasonable demands in spite of or because of what holding to them would cause.
Now, Republican representatives aren’t stupid. They’ve gone to college, many have law degrees, and most have gone to some of the most prestigious universities in the country. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they are smart enough to guess that the Senate wouldn’t agree to their terms. Therefore, we are left with two possible explanations for the House’s consent to a government shutdown: either they don’t care about the shutdown or they want one. Add to that all the work that the conservative media have put into making the shutdown, and even debt default, seem like no big deal, and we can conclude that the House isn’t quite as enthusiastic about opening the government as a hostage taker ought to be. After all, if Republicans really were looking to use the shutdown as leverage, they would be trying to make it seem like it would be the biggest disaster in the history of the United States and turn the debt ceiling into the prelude of the zombie apocalypse. Instead, they seem to be trying to convince the American people that living with the shutdown and defaulting on the national debt wouldn’t affect them at all or might even improve their lives.
At the same time, knowing that a debt default would indeed be bad for the nation, Republicans are trying to shift blame from themselves to the man they see as their archenemy, President Obama, calling the shutdown “Obama’s Shutdown” and accusing the president of refusing to negotiate. Of course, they neglect to mention that the reason negotiations are breaking down is that the terms put on the table by the House are intentionally ludicrous. All in all, it seems like they’re preparing for the worst (or, from their perspective, the best).
The question is, why are they so intent on the shutdown and debt default? Is it just because of their desire to limit government? I think not. It seems that another major goal of the Republican Party is survival. Republicans realize that if they allow the Affordable Care Act to enter into force, their party will die. So in addition to the carrot that is small government, the House is also being given a rather compelling stick: threat of annihilation. If they can just hold on until the debt limit is reached, all blame for the resulting catastrophe will be pushed on President Obama, and the American people will vote red for the next congressional, and perhaps even presidential, election. Otherwise, the Affordable Care Act will take full effect, and the public’s favor shall turn to the blue. That is what all of this boils down to in the end. This shutdown, the threat of default, and the denial of several important government services to the people of the United States are all just side effects of a political gamble. It’s not a game of chicken; it’s not a hostage crisis; it’s not political posturing. It’s something much older and much more basic: a bloody fight for supremacy. So the real question is: Where are the people in this fight? Where is the democracy in our politics? Actually, getting things done is a matter that will be decided much later, it seems. For now, all that matters is 535 seats in a little white building in Washington.
Talha Mukhtar is a business major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected]