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Assessing the Government Shutdown: The Long View

The conventional wisdom right now is that the government shutdown ranks somewhere between a debacle and a catastrophe for Republicans, and their abject surrender is expected before too much longer.  I’m not so sure.  While I thought the shutdown was a dubious and unwise tactic, I think taking a longer view may cast a different light on the scene.

First of all, like the sequester, have the majority of Americans noticed its effects beyond what the media has been screaming about?  The bullying tactics of forcibly shutting off public spaces like the World War II memorial on the mall has surely inflicted damage on Obama that, had he behaved with minimal restraint, he might have been spared.

Beyond this, have there been riots or even public demonstrations against the shutdown?  The political-financial crises in Europe and elsewhere in recent years have seen mass protests and street riots (Spain, Brazil, Greece, Bulgaria, etc).  Where is Occupy Wall Street when Obama needs them?  To the contrary, much more of the political energy appears to be on the Tea Party side right now.  Pretty clearly the shutdown terrifies liberals and journalists—and that’s about it.

Of course, it might be pointed out that this is a faux-shutdown: 80 percent of the government is up and running.  This is analogous to TSA airport security: it is shutdown theater rather than the real thing.  Stop sending Social Security checks and see what happens.

A fair point, but this leads to the next big question: which party most needs the government to be up and running?  Ask yourself which party is the party of government and you’ll know the answer.  With 90 percent of the EPA furloughed, what’s the downside here for Republicans?

More seriously, to the extent that shutdown and “government dysfunction” in Washington causes the public to hold Washington in even greater disgust than usual, who does this hurt the most?  Democrats need the public to have some degree of confidence in government for their expansive schemes to succeed.  Which brings me to the latest soundings on public opinion that Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg have put together and displayed in the charts below.  Bottom line: public confidence in Washington D.C. is at lows not seen since the 1970s.  (And we know what happened at the end of that decade.)

This one is the real stunner:

In the long run, these trends are very bad news for Democrats.

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