By Dr Tim Stanley, The Telegraph
America has learned a lot about itself during the shutdown. For one, it's discovered that certain words have lost their meaning. Barack Obama said yesterday that he will compromise but he won't negotiate, that he's prepared to discuss the budget but won't actually talk about it with the GOP. Everyone's been left a little confused by this semantic ballet, including Republican leader John Boehner. Boehner was so confused that at his press conference he slurred a few of his words and swayed from side to side. Someone should buy the guy a beer.
Another thing that Americans have found is that even when government has been shutdown it's still too darn big. The shutdown has actually only affect about 17 per cent of federal operations and roughly 80 per cent of employees have gone back to work. And a shutdown does not save money in the way that you imagine it would – the government will have to find back pay for furloughed workers and cover the cost of restarting the federal leviathan when it reopens. The price tag of the last shutdown was $1.4 billion.
But the biggest shocker is that the government acts like a bully even when it's closed. In fact, it's managed to use the shutdown as an excuse to be more of a tool than usual. Consider that:
- The government has decided that open air war memorials need to be protected from the people who paid for their construction or fought in the conflicts that they commemorate. As soon as the shutdown began, memorials everywhere were blockaded from the public by huge iron fences. Why? Do they imagine that without the federal money tap turned on the sites are going to crumble into dust? Do they think someone's going to hold a toga party on the Vietnam War memorial? By the way, it's estimated that it costs more money to barricade the monuments than it does to keep them open.
- The government now fines people for jogging on its land. A Pennsylvania man went jogging in the Valley Forge National Historic Park and was confronted by two armed troopers who told him that the park was closed and he wasn't allowed in. He was fined $200.
- The government has developed a very elastic definition of what its land is. Given how extensive federal land is (150 million acres) it's a big enough headache for hunters and fishermen when shutdown anyway. But things have been made worse for those private citizens whose homes and businesses happen to sit on that land. Stories are coming in of elderly couples given 24-hours to vacate their property, of inns shuttered and well-used parking lots closed down.
- Perhaps worst of all, Catholic priests have been told that they can't continue to conduct services on military bases. Those who are "non-active duty priests" are under contract, and the government refuses to honour those contracts during the shutdown. For any faithful Catholics who believes attending Sunday Mass is an obligation, this amounts to taking away a fundamental religious and human right.
It's obvious what's going on here: the federal government is engaging in high profile acts in an effort to exaggerate the impact of the shutdown. It's a political game, designed to shame the Republican into giving up their bargaining position and agreeing to all of Obama's demands.
The shenanigans take us back to the point I opened with – the shutdown has shown us how misleading political language has become. The shutdown isn't a shutdown. On a numbers level, it's more of a slimdown. On a practical level, it's become an act of protest – even of sabotage. Far from being some apolitical benevolent thing that looks after its people without discrimination, the state has developed its own agenda with an unhealthy relationship with the citizenry that can be summed up in five words. "Give me money, or else."