Happy government shutdown! Now that large portions of the federal government are on hold, it's time to get down to the important business of figuring out who to blame. Three candidates have emerged: Democrats, Republicans, and the media. And while all three have gotten substantial case-making word counts in recent days, not all scapegoats are created equal. The real question is: who should take the blame for the impending shutdown? We've broken down the arguments, and why they're wrong or right, below:
Tonya Harding : Nancy Kerrigan :: House Republicans : The United States of America #sorelosers— Marty Beckerman (@martybeckerman) September 30, 2013
Republicans are taking on a decent amount of blame for the shutdown, and for good reason: Sen. Ted Cruz spent 21 hours delaying Senate action on a continuing resolution he supported, giving Congress, including his own party, less time to come up with a compromise. House Republicans tied a defunding, and then a delay, of Obamacare to the continuing resolution that still needs to pass for the government to get going again.
Blame on this front tends to break down into two subsections — those who blame John Boehner and Republican leadership, and those who blame the shadow House Speaker, Sen. Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party wing of the party. And while the fake filibuster has helped Cruz's status as a Tea Party folk hero, that high profile comes with more vulnerability in Shutdown Land. Even some Republicans seem to be circling back to place partial blame on Cruz. Those include fellow Republican senators John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Bob Corker. Corker, who supports the House bills that would delay or defund Obamacare, has said that any decision to accept a shutdown over an Obamacare-free bill would be "self-defeating" for his party. Reports indicate that private congressional opinion on the shutdown might be less gung-ho than it seems:
Because of weak party and strong Tea Party Inc, there's a gap btwn what many Rs are okay w/ priv, and what they'll end up supporting— Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) September 30, 2013
So, who blames Republicans? Congressional Democrats, President Obama, 46 percent of the American voting population, Republicans.
Are they right? In a word, yes. In more words: Aside from taking the blame from a plurality of Americans, congressional Republicans are even blaming themselves — albeit more or less along the lines of opposing internal factions.
NY GOP Rep. Peter King on who would be at fault for shutdown: "Ted Cruz should be blamed and any anybody that follows him."— Chris Moody (@Chris_Moody) September 30, 2013
As much as the shutdown debate looks like a Republicans vs. Obamacare/Democrats fight to some, it's actually a manifestation of the longstanding divisions within the GOP — with the party's leadership on one side, and a conservative, so-called "suicide caucus" on the other. As The Atlantic's James Fallows explained last week, this also means that Republicans more or less have to be the party that makes a deal, within its own ranks: "Democratic legislators as a group, voters or 'opinion leaders' outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority," he writes, "have essentially no leverage over the outcome."
Lots of House Rs telling reporters that the media is making it hard for them o explain their position. Very meta.— daveweigel (@daveweigel) October 1, 2013
Sorry, everyone. As evidenced by the above assessment of the Republican Party's share of the blame in the shutdown, the media are 100 percent in the pockets of the White House. The evangelical World magazine explains:
"It is a safe bet that the mainstream media narrative arising out of any shutdown will blame Republicans for going after Obamacare more than Democrats for protecting an increasingly unpopular and uncertain law."
Mark Halperin became a pro-shutdown hero on Monday morning, too, for arguing on MSNBC that the press were "sympathetic" to the White House's take on the Congressional mess because, well, their reporting indicates that Republicans are more than anyone else committing to ending this thing with a shutdown:
"The White House does not have much incentive [to negotiate]. They think the trends are going to go in their direction at the end of the week, or early next week at the latest; because again, the press is largely sympathetic to their arguments on this."
In Breitbart.com's loving hands, this argument becomes proof that a "pro-Obama bias as a big factor in a potential shutdown."
So, who blames the media? Some conservative media. Some House Republicans.
Are they right? Obviously we're biased here, so no. But! There's a secondary, much more interesting partial "blame the media" argument out there, essentially blaming "neutral" Beltway reporters for "normalizing" what's currently happening. That normalization is epitomized, it seems, by Time's Zeke Miller, who wrote that "Hostage taking — by promising harm if you do not get your way — has long been a standard way of doing business in Washington."
Tip O'Neill shut down government TWELVE TIMES "over numbers" as Chris Matthews said. But something as destructive as Obamacare? TREASON!— Ellen Carmichael (@ellencarmichael) September 30, 2013
If nothing else, the arguments needed to achieve this scapegoat are impressively acrobatic. Senator Ted Cruz got that party started over the weekend by arguing that the only person who should take some blame for the impending shutdown is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "If we have a shutdown, it will be because Harry Reid holds that absolutist position and essentially holds the American people hostage," Cruz said, adding, "So far, Majority Leader Harry Reid has essentially told the House of Representatives and the American people, 'go jump in a lake.'"
As far as we can tell, this argument gets from internal Republican struggle to "it's the Democrats' fault" by claiming that the repeated GOP volleys from the House on the continuing resolution actually represent attempts at compromise, which the Democrats have refused to pick up on. First, the House voted to defund Obamacare. Then, it voted to delay it. That's progress! The Democrats' stance on all this? The president's party will not consider a bill defunding or delaying Obamacare as a valid starting point for negotiations over the continued funding of the government, period. On Monday night, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi went further, saying that Democrats would not consider even small tweaks to Obamacare in a continuing resolution.
So, who blames Democrats?: Congressional Republicans, 36 percent of the American voting population (specifically, they blame Obama. In a separate poll, just 5 percent of Americans blamed Democrats in general). These memes.
Are they right? No.
(Above, Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert discusses the fiscal fight in a TV interview in the Capitol.)