Government Shutdowns: Moments of Insanity?

We should stop criticizing government shutdowns and start thinking about what the shutdowns tell us.

Our government inflicts us with pain all the time.  The recent government shutdown is the most accessible example of such pain.  This kind of discomfort is so repulsive because it happens without our consent, which leads us to mistrust the responsiveness of our American government.  And for good reason:

In a shutdown, well over 800,000 non-essential federal employees don’t know when they’ll receive their next paycheck.  In turn, the rest of us are left to deal with life under a temporarily incompetent, unresponsive federal government.  A lot of uncomfortable stuff happens and the government doesn’t seem to care.

We think situations like these shouldn’t happen in America.  If a government is by the people and for the people, as Lincoln pointed out, the people should never be angry about what the government does.  It should people-please; yet the vast majority of people aren’t pleased with government shutdowns.

Why do shutdowns like this happen in America?

A shutdown happens when Congress cannot agree on a budget before the start of the new fiscal year.    The Constitution and the law do not punish the government if it inconveniences the people with a shutdown.   Instead, Congressmen, as essential employees, still get paid.  And they are still given the responsibility to pass the budget.

The idea is, in a representative government, the representatives do not need legal punishment.  The ballot box is the Congressional cattle-prod.  All Congressmen, unless considering retirement, want to keep their jobs: they either enjoy the distinction that comes with it or want to continue their good influence in Congress.  Sure, legislators must respond well to organized interests who have lots of money, but at the end of the day, the right votes, not the right number of dollars, keeps someone in office.  The one sure way to keep their jobs is to pay attention to the input, opinions, and demands of their constituents.  A representative who does not have one eye in Washington and the other in his district is sure to jeopardize his seat.  So, they need no legal repercussions; we as voters also serve as the punishers.

This accountability mechanism, termed the ‘electoral incentive,’ means that if the representative does stuff in office that his voters disapprove of, it will show in the next election — with his unemployment.  With this in mind, the budget deadlock we just witnessed shows that some Congressmen held to the deep-seated conviction that a shutdown is better than its alternative (in this case, ObamaCare fully-funded), risking their seats in the process.

Does a shutdown like the one we just experienced successfully prevent its alternative?

Americans surely don’t think so: they tend to blame those on the other side for the pain they feel.  They ignore the risky signaling that’s taking place, and consider partisan actions that eventually force a shutdown rash, imprudent, and hopeless.

Americans in general agree that Congress was most to blame during the shutdown, which lessens Congress’ power to be successful.  Shutdown polls declare that the people blamed Republicans rather than Democrats and President Obama.  But notice that the polls tend to lump President Obama and Democrats into one category, which does not account for the consistently higher approval ratings of the President with respect to Congress.  In the end, Congress, not the president, will seem even more blameworthy.

With success falling out of sight, what were Republicans in Congress thinking by forcing a shutdown?  What response were they trying to invoke?

All government shutdowns anticipate pain and anger, but they communicate gravity. A shutdown communicates that the alternative is a more painful than itself. If we feel pains, we should assume something significant is happening.

Even further, In light of the fact that the Republican Party forced a similar government shutdown in 1995, when conditions were better, and had to deal with heavy repercussions, it is safe to assume that Republicans are definitely risking similarly punishing outcomes.  They have communicated a grave issue indeed.

Perhaps the gravity of the situation ran deeper than funding or defunding ObamaCare.  Perhaps they feared that such a law will instill dangerous ideas about the nature and purpose of health insurance.  Or, beyond health insurance, they feared that the law will feed the growing appetite for entitlements and instantaneous gratification that threatens the generous and selfless side of today’s America.

Must we merely complain about our pain?  No.  We should listen to the problem the pain communicates.  Look beyond the discomfort to its source; then consider why the cause is weighty enough to inflict the pain you feel.

In American government, pain is not weakness leaving the body.  The pain leaving the legislative body (and coming down to us) signals graver, more threatening, weaknesses in ourselves and our nation.

Weekly Roundup (Shutdown Edition)

If the cover image worried you for a moment, fear not, faithful readers.  The Evangelical Outpost did not shut down this week.  We’re an essential service!

Politico takes us on a photo tour of the previous 17 federal government shutdowns.  (What might be most surprising to many people, given the current level of rhetoric in the media, is just how many times the government shut down during the Reagan administration with a Democrat-controlled House).


Matt Welch writes at CNN that, while the shutdown is bad politics (especially for Republicans), it’s ultimately nothing to worry about.


In the midst of all the budget battles raging these days, with frequent calls from Republicans to lower taxes and cut entitlement spending, Andrew Quinn argues that it’s time for conservatives to make explicit what is already implicit in their economic goals: championing the poor.


Not only is the world still spinning during the federal government shutdown, but worlds beyond our solar system are too.  Here’s the first cloud map of one such exoplanet.


Warning: This article is graphic and not for those with sensitive consciences, but it is a must read (especially for those with children):  Experiment that convinced me online porn is the most pernicious threat facing children today.


From r/atheism to the Richard Dawkins Foundation’s Facebook page, online atheists love their memes, especially the ones that are “devastating” to religon as well as being humorous.  Here are few such Devastating Arguments Against Christianity (Courtesy of the Internet).  As it turns out, the arguments are indeed devastating…just not to religion.


Stanford Team Sheds Light on the Medieval Foundations of Modern Science.


Desiring God’s 2013 National Conference was all about C. S. Lewis, with some fascinating topics and a stellar speaker lineup (including Phil Ryken and Kevin Vanhoozer).  The free video and audio is availabe here.


When creativity and love meets technology, magic happens:  Creative Dad Takes Crazy Photos Of Daughters.


Essayist and programmer Paul Graham has written a brief and helpful article on How to Disagree.  For the visually inclined, here is a an image based on his essay ranking the 7 types of disagreement.


33 Of The Most Hilariously Terrible First Sentences In Literature History:

Betty had eyes that said come here, lips that said kiss me, arms and torso that said hold me all night long, but the rest of her body said, “Fillet me, cover me in cornmeal, and fry me in peanut oil”; romance wasn’t easy for a mermaid.


Part two of the Hobbit trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, is going to be a massive hit at the box office, despite the underwhelming first installment.  How do I know?  Two words:  The ‘Batch (just listen to the final moments of the new trailer):

The Newsroom

I am currently addicted to The Newsroom. As with anything created by Aaron Sorkin, the show is smart, funny, and pulls at the heartstrings. So far as I know, it is also the only HBO series that does not contain ridiculous amounts of nudity and violence (even the profanity is light). Newsroom is both engaging and entertaining. Seriously, it’s a really, really excellent show.

Now for the “but”… Continue reading The Newsroom

Year of the Mommy Blogger

If 2010 is the year of the pro-life woman, 2016 should be the year of the smart “mommy blogger”—because, if the GOP wants to ensure its own long term success, today’s politically-inclined mommy bloggers will likely become tomorrow’s candidates.

Sarah Palin’s popularity is proof that the conservative grassroots are ready and eager to rally around a female candidate from outside the Beltway.   And, if the tea party movement continues strong, chances are good that one of today’s young, politically savvy mommy bloggers will be the next decade’s conservative champion.

While the stereotypical mommy blogger is better known for her potty-training rants than for her politics, an increasing number are intelligent, well-educated former professionals who left the full-time workforce in order to raise their children.  Advertisers are beginning to realize that moms are among the web’s most influential demographics, and, thanks to factors like the tea party movement, Sarah Palin, and the rise of digital activism, moms are finding it easier than ever to put this newfound influence to use.  Sure, some only blog about their families, but many offer a good mix of the personal and political—and they’re not afraid to act on their political opinions.  The popularity of mommy blogger gatherings like the BlogHer Conventions proves that they’re willing to learn how to write and act more effectively for a good cause, and it likely wouldn’t be difficult for existing conservative training organizations like the Leadership Institute to expand their recruiting efforts to include conservative moms who blog.  Imagine the impact Sarah Palin might have today if she’d spent the past decade learning the ideas and methods that can make or break a leader—and imagine the candidates the GOP might have in ten years if it started training smart, conservative mommy bloggers today.

The digital world provides a unique place for these women, whose unpredictable schedules and need to be centered in one physical space are perfectly suited to online interaction.  They also care deeply about the social issues that have kept conservatives and liberals squabbling for decades. This interest is far from idle or theoretical, and they tend to be well-informed about issues that may affect them and their families—a combination that makes them ideal potential activists.  While it is difficult to determine whether the “mommy-blogosphere” skews left or right, we do know that online moms are a force to be reckoned with and that their influence will continue to grow.

Mommy bloggers are, in other words, exactly what the Republican Party needs. As Ben Domenech writes,

Traditionally, one of the biggest reasons conservatives have a male-dominated Chamber of Commerce and local sports hero representation in the lower chamber is that they have a hard time finding female candidates for higher office. This is not because there are insufficient conservative women — as you may know, the gender gap is really just an example of the expanded racial gap than anything else (white women voted for McCain by a margin of 53-46) — but it’s because conservative and especially Christian women tend to choose to abandon their careers, or shift to part time work, the instant they have kids.

This is not a bad choice for them, and probably a good one for their families, but it’s one that deprives the GOP of a lot of very good candidates — a situation which is only becoming more challenging for Republicans as women overwhelmingly surpass men in educational achievement.

My thought, then, was that if Republicans were smart, in every district where they find a Democrat who has a 60+ edge, and the GOP has no obviously active candidates or farm team members in need of some seasoning, a general rule ought to be: run a Smart Mom.

Domenech is right, but I’d like to push his suggestion a step further: Republicans should not only recruit “Smart Moms” for 2012, but should develop a more long-term strategy of incorporating them into the ranks of the GOP elite.  Now is the time to identify and develop the smart mom bloggers whose involvement in the grassroots can help prepare them to run for office in 5-10 years.  It’s a long term strategy with minimal investment and enormous potential.

Many of today’s mommy bloggers are too young and too busy raising families to run for office, but that won’t be true for long.  It’s not too early to think about helping them become candidates in the future.  Additionally, as advertisers are discovering, online moms are an enticingly untapped resource. Thanks in part to the recent surge in popular pro-life female candidates, there’s never been a better time for homemakers to weigh in on online political debates—and there’s no better time for them to prepare to be the GOP’s next best weapon in a few years when their children are grown.’

Super Tuesday Too:
Reflections on the OH and TX Primaries

The Longest Two Months— While it seems like an eternity has passed, the Iowa Caucus was only 60 days ago. Fortunately this is the last of the significant primaries and the race has been decided on one side and all but determined on the other.
Congrats to McCain — If winning makes you look smarter, then campaign manager Rick Davis appears to be a genius. He laid out McCain’s Path to Victory in December and found a way to make it a reality.
Thanks, Governor Huckabee — I have many reasons to be thankful for Governor Huckabee’s inspiring Presidential run. But there are three other groups who should also be grateful for Mike Huckabee: social conservatives who lacked a voice in the primaries, supporters of John McCain, and Republicans.
If the Republican’s hold the White House next year, Huckabee will deserve partial credit. By winning in Iowa, Huckabee derailed Romney’s campaign and prevented the Massachusetts Governor’s long march toward an inevitable electoral debacle. Huckabee also managed to keep many conservative evangelicals and other members of the traditionalist wing of the party engaged in the race. Their support for McCain may be listless, but Huckabee gave them hope that it may be too soon to give up on the GOP.
An Inevitable Obamination? Maybe Not. — After the Florida primary I wrote, “An Obama/Anyone ticket would be a disaster for McCain.” I still pessimistic enough to believe that it’s likely, though I’m hopeful that the abomination of an Obama presidency is not yet inevitable. I’m even starting to see signs that such a disaster may be averted. The reason: people are starting to listen to what Obama says.
Take, for instance, his NAFTA-bashing which has caused our neighbors to the north to worried about the “rhetoric of protectionism.” Even Andrew Sullivan, who swoons at the mention of Obama, said the NAFTA pander was “Not his finest hour.” (Yes it’s a tepid response and yes we all know that if Obama wins that Sullivan will spend the next four years regretting his support (as he did with Bush), but still, any relenting from his incessant Obamafawning is a huge concession.)
Obama has an uncanny ability to inspire in people an audacious hope for the impossible (Example: “The philosophy guy said that he almost always votes for Republican, but he’s for Obama this time, although he can’t quite explain why. His hope is that Obama will govern like a Republican.”) But I’m hopeful that such people will set aside such nonsense and eventually realize that while Obama sounds like a cross between Cicero and The Rock, what he’s saying is nothing more than rehashed discredited liberalism.
Rush to Idiocy — So Rush Limbaugh is urging people to vote for Hillary. Hugh Hewitt is aghast (“If Hillary ekes out close wins, stays alive, gains the nomination and the White House, will Rush hold the Bible at her Inauguration?”) but I can’t say that I’m really surprised. Rush is an entertainer and for all the hype about his ratings, his audience isn’t that large by show business standards (he has half the audience of Fox’s reality show Moment of Truth). He needs a Clinton presidency to remain relevant and give people a reason to tune in to his daily gasbaggery.
Still, I refuse to believe it worked. I refuse to believe that Republicans in Ohio and Texas are voting for Hillary in the primary because some radio clown told them it was the optimal strategy. I refuse to believe it because (a) the fact that McCain is the nominee shows that Rush is not that influential and (b) Republicans can’t be that stupid. (While I’m certain about (a) could I be wrong about (b)?)
I agree with Lars Walker: “It seems to me that if you love this country you’ve got to hold the electoral process in a kind of reverence. The fact that there are cynical people out there who game the system doesn’t justify us, the people who say we believe in moral absolutes, in pretending to belong to a different party so we can sabotage its nomination process. If they did it to us, I’d be angry about it.”
Say it ain’t so, Republicans; say you didn’t stoop that low.
The Most Significant Number — In 2004, Ohio proved to be the key state for President Bush’s reelection victory. In a tight race, Bush beat John Kerry in the Buckeye State by 118,457 votes. So how does it look four years later? With 81% of the precincts in Ohio reporting, the Democratic candidates received 1,745,199 votes while the Republicans received less than half that amount — 867,000.
If the GOP is relying on a victory in Ohio to shift the Red-Blue divide toward McCain then we’re in serious trouble.