In friendship false, implacable in hate:

Resolved to ruin or to rule the state.

 John Dryden[1]

[This is G. As of this writing, we are now in day 8 of the government shutdown. No new appropriations still equal no new funds for federal programs and no work for many federal employees. There’s a lot of social stress, but so far only minimal signs of chaos. Veterans are scuffling with guards while trying to see the Vietnam Memorial[2]; one woman was killed attempting to run barricades around the White House and the Capitol[3]; and another person burned himself to death on the Mall.[4] And, in case you didn’t hear, yesterday there was a fatal explosion on the DC subway,[5]and Friday truckers are planning to descend on DC and clog the beltway, to pressure the police to detain “accessories to treason.[6]” By that apparently they mean Representatives and Senators.

Will there be more? Yes. Will DC be like Saigon in the end stages of the Vietnam War? Probably not. Currently we have no hostile foreign invaders on American soil. Will we hear about new stuff when it happens? Yes, most likely. After all, this is the decade of the social media.

In case you didn’t notice, Larry really didn’t want to write last week’s blog. Nevertheless, he made some important points, one of them that not every political disagreement should be resolved by the Supreme Court. Sometimes the contending parties ought to let the voters decide. And guess what? If you read the tealeaves, you may find that some members of the Court agree. Consider, for example, remarks made by Justice Anthony Kennedy in California just last week.

Let’s start with the context. He was attending the formal dedication of a federal law library in Sacramento and at one point took questions from reporters. One of them asked, did he think “the court was deciding too many issues that [could] be decided by Congress?” His answer? “Yes,” and that’s a problem.

I think it’s a serious problem. A democracy should not be dependent for its major decisions on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say … And I think it’s of tremendous importance for our political system to show the rest of the world — and we have to show ourselves first — that democracy works because we can reach agreement on a principle[d] basis.”.[7]

Justice Kennedy often is seen as a “swing vote” between liberals and conservatives on the Court, so his views are always interesting; but does he represent a consensus on this? Only time will tell. But frankly, if I were a betting person, I would bet against anyone who argues that the Court is eager (or even willing) to involve itself in the current mess on the Hill.

That being said, it’s time to move on to Part 2 of this blog. This is the part that Larry actually wanted to write, so let’s let him do it.]

Thanks, G. I was as dumbfounded as anyone when the Government shut down, and – like everybody – looked for analogies to help me understand. Perhaps something from labor law? Is the shutdown like a labor-management blowup, where negotiations fail and management “locks out” the workers to force concessions? It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t pan out.

With strikes and lockouts, both sides have financial skin in the game. Without workers, a company can’t produce goods or services to sell, so revenues (and profits) suffer. That’s bad for management. If labor doesn’t work, then workers don’t get paid. That’s bad for labor. So, not to put too fine a point on it, work stoppages automatically pressure both sides to reach some sort of a compromise. The pressure is direct and financial.

That’s not true with a Government shutdown. When Congress starves the Government of funds, only federal employees have to go home. Our Senators and Representatives are exempted, in that they establish their own compensation by law and are unlikely to vote to suspend it.[8] Also, the President’s compensation, and that of all federal judges, may not be reduced.[9] So there you go; only the ordinary  people who depend on the Government one way or another are hurt.

Serves them right? I’m not going there. The point is that the legislators who create the mess aren’t directly affected by it. There are indirect effects, of course, which tend to manifest themselves as perturbations in voter sentiment, so I’m sure the pollsters are pretty busy right now. But as we all know, polling is not an exact science, and polls sometimes can be very wrong. Every Republican I talked to last year, up to the week before the election, seemed convinced that Mitt Romney was going to win. Of course he didn’t.

So I expect that each side’s pollsters are chanting their usual incantations, burning the required incense, and telling their clients that they are winning the debate. For, you see pollsters are mostly codependents in politics; their real job is to reassure the combatants, not to bring bad news.

Right now each side is blaming the other for the current impasse. Their mantra is, if you would only agree with me, then we would have a deal. And, of course, in one sense that’s correct. The Democrats control the Senate, and the Republicans control the House. There can be no legislation unless both agree on something.

[Larry, I’m going to interrupt. Suppose you were walking down a dark alley one night, and were stopped by a menacing stranger who said (i) he is a cannibal, and (ii) he’s going to kill and eat you. Would you fight, or just stand there? Suppose he said that this time he would settle for just your right arm. Would you agree to the compromise? If not, what would you say when he complained you weren’t negotiating in good faith? Would you admit he has a point?]

There he goes again. G likes to make points by exaggerating consequences[10], but this time he’s gone too far. I’m morally certain that no Conservative really wants to eat a Democrat. All I’m saying is that both sides are convinced they’re right, and one of them will be wrong. The loser will find out when there’s a public backlash against dismantling our Government.  The winner may find out as well. Today lots of people seem to think both political parties are at fault.[11]

And why would any politician want to create a situation where everybody is discredited? Aren’t politicians natural compromisers, who want the approval of voters, not their hatred? Well, not all of them; there’s that second variety John Dryden described three centuries ago: You know, the ones “[r]esolved to ruin or to rule the state.” We seem to have a lot of that sort running for office these days.


[1] This is John Dryden, the English poet, who lived from 1631 to 1700. See The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Oxford, 2004) at John Dryden, p. 287, n.2. Henceforth, the book will be cited as ODQ at __. If you want a biography of Dryden, of course you can find one in Wikipedia. Just go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dryden

[2] See LI, Jacobson, Battle of the Barrycades – Vets storm Vietnam Memorial, U.S Park Police called in (October 5, 2013) at http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/10/battle-of-the-barrycades-vets-storm-vietnam-memorial-u-s-park-police-called-in/

[3] See The Washington Post, Herman, O’Keefe & Fahrenthold, Unarmed Driver is Fatally Shot (Friday, October 4, 2013) at p. A1, A11; WKYT, AP, Police: Woman killed in DC chase was delusional (October 6, 2013) at http://www.wkyt.com/home/headlines/Police-Woman-killed-in-DC-chase-was-delusional-226485691.html

[4] See Big News Network, Mall self-immolator still to be identified (October 6, 2013) at http://www.bignewsnetwork.com/index.php/sid/217553779/scat/c08dd24cec417021/ht/Mall-self-immolator-still-to-be-identified

[5] See The Washington Post, Hedgpeth & Lazo, Fatal accident disrupts repairs to the Red Line (Monday, October 7, 2013) at p. A1, A7.

[6] See US News, Nelson, ‘Truckers for the Constitution’ Plan to Slow D.C. Beltway, Arrest Congressmen (October 7, 2013) at http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/10/07/truckers-for-the-constitution-plan-to-slow-dc-beltway-arrest-congressmen

[7] See CBS, Local DC, Justice Kennedy: ‘Serious Problem’ Supreme Court Deciding Too Many Issues That Can Be Decided By Congress (March 7, 2013) at http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/03/07/justice-kennedy-serious-problem-supreme-court-deciding-too-many-issues-that-can-be-decided-by-congress/

[8] See U.S. Constitution, Article I, Sec. 6, cl. 1: “The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States.” You can get a reliable transcript of this and other key documents from the National Archives, at http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/

[9] See U.S. Constitution, Article II, Sec.1, cl. 7 (the President); Article III, Sec. 1 (federal judges)

[10] It’s called the reductio ad absurdum, For a short discussion of this kind of argument, see Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum

[11] See Gallup Politics, Swift, Americans See Current Shutdown as More Serious Than in ’95, Views of president, Republican, Democratic leaders widely negative (October 4, 2013) at http://www.gallup.com/poll/165260/americans-current-shutdown-serious.aspx

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