This Shutdown is a Disaster That No One is Treating Like a Disaster

I'm very disappointed with Nancy Pelosi's response to the government shutdown.

Obviously, I'm far more than disappointed with Donald Trump's decision to shut the government down, and I don't really like Chuck Schumer's response, either.  But I highlight Pelosi because she's the only one of these three with some influence and who isn't the person who is shutting down the government.

I'm disappointed because Nancy Pelosi is doing exactly what anyone would expect her to do, which is doing nothing and letting a disaster unfold that will damage her opposition's political standing.  The problem is that this strategy makes no consideration whatsoever for thousands of people who are falling into permanent economic hardship due to this shutdown.

The media has reported, it seems, thousands of times about the visitors to Joshua Tree who now have to endure visiting a national park without the reassuring knowledge that a professional park ranger is keeping a watchful eye on visitors.  I don't mean to diminish how angry I was when I visited Joshua Tree on New Years, but I'll survive.

In addition to leaving hundreds of thousands of people suddenly without jobs for an unknown duration, the shutdown has interrupted the support checks being sent to bail out farmers who've lost their income due to the trade war with China.  Also, food assistance programs are only secure for the next week or two.

These sound like flood victims.  Oh that reminds me: of FEMA's 19,000 workers, 15,000 are currently working without pay.  Think about the kind of stressful work that gets done at FEMA, and imagine you're now not getting paid.  Also, the agency is shutting down programs indefinitely as they wait for a resumption in financial solvency.  But anyway, the victims of the shutdown sound like people who were hit by a freak storm that suddenly upended them, except the storm was created willfully and deliberately by a capricious ruler.

So to recap, I'm mad that Nancy Pelosi's strategy hasn't prioritized individual human beings who are facing the most painful direct effects of the shutdown.  To her credit, her response isn't that far off from what I'd like to see.  Also, I hate when people -- especially professionals in media -- apply a false balance that blames "Washington" for gridlock.  It doesn't even make sense for the New York Times to poll Americans on who they blame for the shutdown, since that isn't a subjective opinion.  The question they should ask is just 'Do you support the president withholding government operating funds in order to pressure Democrats into funding a boarder wall.'  So I'm not criticizing Pelosi for just being present in the midst of dysfunction for which she is in no way responsible.

The current response strategy has been to suggest agreeing not to withhold funding from the most essential programs as we resolve the larger impasse.  Which is what I'd suggest.  The problem I have is simply with messaging, on two points:

First, I'm not seeing any urgency from her.


This video primarily serves to explain why the shutdown in the president's fault to American citizens.  And the fact that the tone is condescending or that it's 100% factually correct is irrelevant.  What's significant is that this point matters to the political class, but it's not what most people affected by the shutdown care about.  How about providing a brief update on what is and isn't operational?  How about reassurance to anyone who is currently uncertain about the status of a program in which they're enrolled, perhaps with a website where they can get information?  And then, clearly announce your proposed solution: we'll provide stopgap funding to FEMA, the TSA, air traffic controllers, the National Weather Service, and other agencies who's work can't be interrupted, then we'll provide stopgap funding to government assistance programs and the IRS to ensure tax refunds are provided on time.  After that, we'll work on getting the rest of the  government open, hopefully within the next business week.

And finally, sympathize with the affected.  'As a high-ranking government official, my heart goes out to each of you personally harmed by this unnecessary crisis.  Since taking office one week ago, myself and my colleagues are doing all that we can to restore normal function and correct our system to make this kind of interruption impossible going forward.'

Second: She's accepted political advantage in exchange for a shorter shutdown.

From a game-theory perspective, she has certainly asked herself how this ends.  It won't end with her capitulating to a hostage taker, she knows that.  And she knows that Donald Trump is predictable in this regard: he'd probably let the government remained shutdown for the next two years rather than back down on something.  So the most likely outcome is that he will declare a national emergency and begin exercising some of his most poorly checked presidential powers.  The more Democrats use this issue to gain political advantage, the higher they raise the stakes for Trump if he backs down.  Which means that the best way to end the shutdown is to deliberately try to depoliticize it.  Treat it like a natural disaster.  Keep repeating that you and your colleagues across both parties are doing everything they can to restore normal operation.

From the standard political playbook, this is crazy.  Why would you leave such a huge opening unexploited?  But what the fuck difference does it make?  It's two months after an election anyway!  None of this is going to affect anyone's electoral outcomes.  For once, ignore the obvious move to score a point in favor of looking like a responsible public servant.  Which ironically, is the exact brand Democrats are trying to achieve as the 2020 primary process begins.