The government shutdown of January, 2018 led to the usual efforts to place blame. The Republicans assert that the Democrats are in the wrong—if only they would put the interest of America ahead of their unpatriotic devotion to the illegals eager to remain or cross in search of handouts, then there would be no problem. The Democrats blame the Republicans, presenting their own narrative of the evils of the Republicans. Sorting out the responsibility in such matters can be rather problematic; especially since everyone typically contributes to the problem.
It is, of course, tempting to be cynical about the matter and embrace the narrative that each side is simply maneuvering to maximize the chances that its members will be re-elected in the next cycle. To truly cynical eyes, the Democrats are trying to win the votes of the brown people. The Republicans are struggling to win the votes of the white people who are terrified of the brown people. This view, I hope, does a disservice to both sides. But, the problem remains of sorting out the responsibility.
One factor that makes objectively assessing responsibility in this matter is in-group bias. This is a cognitive bias that influences people to see members of their group as better than those outside the group. As such, people who identify with a political party will see their party as better and the other party as worse. So, in the eyes of most Democrats, the Republicans are to blame—they seem to be in the wrong because Democrats see other Democrats as better. The same sort of bias holds for Republicans—they will tend to see the Democrats as being in the wrong.
This bias can also fuel a full fallacy, which is sometimes called the group think fallacy. This fallacy occurs when a person infers that their group is right or better simply because it is their group. The mistake is, of course, that the fact that a group is one’s own does not entail that it is right, good or better. Naturally, many people have the sense to realize that openly asserting that their side is right because it is their side is not a good argument. As such, they tend to advance reasons in favor of the position they already hold, seeking evidence that confirms the conclusion they have drawn from the in-group fallacy and that conforms to their in-group bias.
The psychological commitment people have to their groups can lead to distorting the evidence and, not surprisingly, to making use of other fallacies in “defense” of their position. As such, a Democrat reading this is most likely certain that the Republicans are to blame, while a Republican reading this is probably sure that this trouble is all the fault of the Democrats.
Even if people were willing and able to push through the in-group bias and resist the lure of the group think fallacy, there would still be a challenge in assigning responsibility. One reason for this is the matter of value. In the case at hand, a key question is whether it is worth shutting down the government to try to get what one wants (or to deny the other people what they want). Both the Democrats and Republicans have agreed that it is worth doing so—the Democrats refused to go along with the Republicans and the Republicans refused to cooperate with the Democrats. This leaves the question of whether one of them has it right. This, of course, leads to the debate over values and both sides can sincerely believe that they are in the right. This leads to the classic question of whether such values are objective or subjective. If they are objective, at least one side is in the wrong. If values are subjective, then they could both be in the right, albeit meaningless so. After all, if everyone is right, then right means nothing.
As far as who I blame, my inclination is to place most of it on Trump. Both the Democrats and the Republicans worked together on a compromise, but Trump rejected it and seems to be engaged in yet another twitter tantrum. But, of course, my perception is shaded by my biases.
The local and state governments are functioning. The longer the federal government remains closed the better people will realize we don’t actually need a federal government, a sixteenth amendment, or a federal reserve.
Sums it up pretty nicely – maybe “Who is to blame?” is the wrong question. Maybe we should ask, “Who gets the credit?”
Even if people were willing and able to push through the in-group bias and resist the lure of the group think fallacy,
As far as who I blame, my inclination is to place most of it on Trump
But of course. No group-think fallacy involved here. Just like with December’s tax bill. Anyone remember the tax bill? Mike nailed that one without falling into group-think, so surely he’s got this one spot-on. /sarc
A few random thoughts here …
First of all, I don’t think it’s at all fruitful to think of this kind of thing in terms of “who is to blame?” The cynic in me would suggest that that question is one of the first questions asked by members of Congress – phrased in various ways – i.e., “If things go south, who can we blame?” or “If this works out, how can I get the credit?” or even, “How can I work this so that my opponent will look bad no matter what?” It’s the way Congress [dys]functions.
I’m not surprised that you blame Trump, but I would offer a comparison to Obama for you, and suggest that you try to assess your opinion without the bias to which you so freely admit.
For Trump, “Immigration Reform” has always been a priority issue. It was consistently at the forefront of his campaign, and it has been no secret that it has always been a key issue of his administration. If nothing else, this is the issue that is most crucial for him to get right, to get passed, to create his legacy.
The same was true of Obama, except that the issue was “Healthcare Reform”
The government shut down on both issues.
On the one hand, in either case, you could blame the president for being uncooperative, for refusing to accept what was passed by Congress, or you could blame the Senate minority party for not compromising at the last minute – but you could also hold those same people in high esteem for holding their ground, for risking their careers on an issue about which they are passionate, and for whom the kind of compromise sought would undermine the very core of the bill in question.
Of course, in both cases, both houses had quite a bit of time to debate the issue and come up with viable solutions, and in both cases, they failed to meet their deadlines.
An analogy might be if you assign a semester-long group project to your class which would represent a significant portion of their grade at the end. The groups procrastinate, or are in disagreement as to how to work together on the problems, and despite warnings, threats, and looming deadlines, fail to produce an acceptable project at the end. You, as their teacher, refuse to accept what they do turn in, because it does not address the core pedagogical principals of the assignment. “But we did work hard!” protest the students. “We did the best we could, but every time someone came up with an idea, others objected to it, and wouldn’t listen to reason!”
So, as their professor, you fail them. And they tell their friends, and everyone agrees – it was your fault. Just as it is Trump’s.
Of course, college students aren’t as good at political strategy as our elected leaders, and that’s where this analogy falls apart. (There is also the very real argument that during the debates about healthcare, the minority party was not allowed at the table – told “it’s our turn now – you can sit in the back”, but that’s a different story).
On of the major sticking points of this whole issue is DACA. The difference between Trump and Obama on this issue is that Trump is demanding that a bill be passed that he can sign. Obama worked around Congress and established the policy by executive order, making it very easy for Trump to rescind. In a very large sense, all he did was play upon the ignorance of the American people and the fecklessness of the opposition party in order to make himself look good to his liberal supporters, while kicking the real can down the road. He knew that the issue would have to go through a much more rigorous process to become law at some point – but did not have the political will to force the issue on his own.
So if we back up more than a couple of weeks, we could blame a dysfunctional Congress for this shutdown, or we could blame Obama for setting the stage in the first place … or we could sequentially blame every previous administration for not addressing a comprehensive immigration reform bill while they were in power – such that each failure in turn led to the problems we have today.
But there is that notion of political strategy and the blame game, which I think is in and of itself to “blame” for this situation. DACA was the sticking point for all negotiations – and as such was put off and put off.
In true Congressional style, the issue was attached to the entire spending bill. It didn’t need to be there, it had little to do with appropriations, but Democrats knew they had no chance of getting anywhere close to what they wanted with DACA if it were debated as a standalone bill – so it became a negotiation point for the passage of everything else. This is not a matter of idealism, not is it a matter of “group-think”, it’s not even a matter of who is right or wrong – it’s simply a negotiation strategy – forcing the opposition to bend on a key issue because their backs are against the wall. In this case, the “wall” was getting the “blame” for a government shutdown. If the Republicans didn’t capitulate on DACA, then the refusal to compromise and ensuing shutdown were on them.
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel
Although Emanuel is the one who said it, it is the watchword of every politician of every stripe. And don’t get me wrong – just because I am identifying the strategy quoted by and employed by the Democrats as the immediate cause of this latest shutdown, doesn’t mean I side with the Republicans. The exact same situation occurred in 2013 when the government shut down over the delaying or de-funding of Obamacare. Like DACA, those provisions didn’t have to be in the budget bill, but, also like DACA, the Republicans knew they had no chance of even bringing it to the floor as a standalone measure. In either case, they tried to create a “lose-lose” for the other side – “Bend on this issue, or you will get the blame for a government shut-down!”
In the case of Obamacare, Obama was hailed as a hero for standing his ground – and Trump is the media chump. History will prove who was right, and whether it is blame or credit to be assigned.
I am reminded of the standoff between Clinton and Gingrich in the mid 1990’s, with regard to Welfare Reform. Neither was willing to budge on the issue, and the government shut down. Clinton was admired for being resolute and sticking to his principles; Gingrich was vilified and hated for being a scowling old white racist who had no compassion for welfare recipients. Ultimately Clinton backed down and compromised, and “Workfare” was born. Looking back, this led to the greatest reduction in both welfare rolls and unemployment in recent history, and helped to revitalize the US economy, for which Clinton is now given most of the credit. A big part of his legacy is that he is admired for his “shift to the middle” and his ability to compromise with his political opponents.
My final point regarding a government shutdown is, “Who cares, really?” In a headline, it sounds a whole lot worse than it really is. In reality, what happens is that non-essential workers are furloughed in a very carefully contrived process. In some cases, the furloughs are deliberately made to be (or seem) as painful as possible – in others, they are the opposite. A close look at these cases will reveal the difference – which lies in the success of the placement of blame. If the “Demicans” are in charge, and can successfully blame the “Republocrats” for the shutdown, they can underscore the effect by creating a painful situation for many workers and making sure it makes the headlines. Of course if it looks like the “Demicans” will be unsuccessful in placing blame, then they can ease the pain felt by the furloughed workers and come out looking compassionate.
In 2013, when the “blame” was placed squarely on Republican shoulders, the pain was magnified either in reality or in the eyes of the public through a complicit media, and they were painted as obstructionist, un-compassionate and even racist. Today, the administration has parried the blame somewhat, but great care has been taken to mitigate the effect on workers. In either case, I don’t think anyone really suffers financially – those workers who are furloughed receive back pay anyway.
In non-financial ways, though, the affected workers realize that they are being used as pawns in a childish standoff. It would be much better if the shutdowns had a greater effect on those who cause it in the first place – if Congressional salaries could be pro-rated for the amount of time the budget doesn’t pass, for example, with no provision for back pay – or if there could be an associated tax relief to Americans so we don’t have to foot the bill for federal incompetence – but, well, speaking of “The Dream Act” …
A most excellent post. Shame the majority (all?) of your points will be ignored by the host.
if Congressional salaries could be pro-rated for the amount of time the budget doesn’t pass, for example, with no provision for back pay
Said this back in 2013. Not sure how big an impact it would have been this time in that a good number of them rely on other income to support themselves (as I actually think it should be), but back in 2013 when this went on for the better part of three weeks, they might have started to take notice.
I agree, serving in Congress should be a “service”, not a full-time job – as it was originally intended. However, that brings up another issue …
a good number of them rely on other income to support themselves
Of course, back in the old days when our elected representatives were farmers or tradesmen, they had an incentive to finish the job and finish it well so they could go back to supporting their families. Their work in Washington was a civic duty.
Today, though, they come to Washington well-off and enjoy a pretty good salary & benefits – but many of our elected leaders manage to accumulate tremendous wealth by means that are pretty sketchy at best. Harry Reid, for example, came to the Senate 40 years ago as a city’s attorney – and has amassed a fortune in excess of $10 million … a paltry sum when compared to Nancy Pelosi’s nearly $200 million. I would think that by holding their salary in abeyance for the duration of a shutdown wouldn’t even come close to the cost of a dinner for any of them.
I don’t know what the answer is – maybe stripping them of their aides and drivers and expense accounts and vacation days, and making them stay in Washington at work for 10 – 12 hours a day until the budget passes … let them miss a few holidays and birthdays and junkets and “campaign trips” as the first step – and allow the Army Navy game to go on as planned, and pay the park rangers while you’re at it.
(If their staff are laid off, let them deal with the anger and the blowback. I’d love to hear what the lowly aides and secretaries would have to say to these fatcats if they were the first to be laid off …)
I don’t know what the answer is
Neither do I. But here’s a thought. Perhaps the fault lies not in our politicians but in ourselves. We have been silent as our society has moved further and further from the idea that freedom does not function well without responsibility. We have failed to acknowledge the harm that collectivism does to a society. Theft is theft, be it done with a gun or with a government. The more power we cede to these entities, the greater control that they have not only over our own finances, but over our own charitable responsibilities as well. This includes our responsibilities to teach future generations the damage and danger that surrendering freedoms and responsibilities entails. IOW the solution is not about making more rules to fix people. Basically, trying to legislate morality. Won’t work. Closest would be what Milton Friedman once said:
“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or it they try, they will shortly be out of office.”
“Perhaps the fault lies not in our politicians but in ourselves. We have been silent as our society has moved further and further from the idea that freedom does not function well without responsibility.”
Totally agree. We are a willfully ignorant society. I’ll answer your Milton Friedman quote with one by Benjamin Franklin, when asked upon leaving Independence Hall, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” to which he responded,
“A Republic, if you can keep it”.
Franklin probably had doubts that it would last as long as it has … but what we have is closer to an oligarchy than a republic at this point, and it’s of our own doing.
…but what we have is closer to an oligarchy than a republic at this point…
I believe that the internet is making money much less important in politics. I would say the fall of oligarchy is mirrored by the rise of Trump.
Michael LaBossiere says
The professor analogy would work in this case if the professor was like Trump. But, you are obviously right that both parties have been procrastinating getting things done.
I actually threw in the Trump remark and my statement of bias to see how the comments would pan out against me.
I’m really not sure I understand. What do you mean “Like Trump”? How is this different from any other government shutdown? Any president knows what he wants and does not want in a bill that requires his signature, and will or will not sign it based on that. Same with a professor and an assignment – and there are plenty of students who will complain about any professor who does not accept their work – “He just doesn’t like me!”
Where I see the analogy not working is that the students are not more like Congress. I believe very strongly (maybe this is my own bias) that Congress purposely puts in language or provisions in a bill that they know will not be accepted by their opposition or signed by the President, for the specific purpose of amassing ammunition against them. (“He is a racist who hates children – he would not sign DACA!”)
“I actually threw in the Trump remark and my statement of bias to see how the comments would pan out against me.”
Really? I thought it was to your credit that you recognized and acknowledged your own bias as one possible context for your statement. There are, however, plenty of people who doblame Trump (or Obama, or Bush, or Clinton, or Reagan … ) specifically and entirely because of their bias, who do not recognize the bias, and thus hinder any kind of meaningful dialogue about the real issue.
Did you get what you wanted?
I disagree with a large amount of what you put forth in your essays and am very vocal about that disagreement – but none of what I say is intended to be “against you”. I hope you don’t take it personally.
Really? I thought it was to your credit that you recognized and acknowledged your own bias as one possible context for your statement.
Did you get what you wanted?
I hope you don’t take it personally.
Ah…they’re cute when they’re young, eh TJ?
Thanks for that. Not many people think I’m cute – I’ll take it wherever I can get it …
yw. We were all there once. Thanks for taking me back to those innocent days of yore and making me feel young again. OK, not exactly young but…
That “innocent days of yore” remark made me think of biomass…remember him, WTP?
biomass/dashel hammit/wtf. Once he sensed we were ignoring his nonsense, he’d make a new alias. As if his stupid couldn’t be easily sniffed out under any cover. Magus asked to have him banned for being such a db. I felt bad for fooling M once when I was mocking bm/dh/wtf by using his moronic logic and wording in one of my posts and M thought he was sock puppeting as me. Honest mistake, though. There was one bright guy from the left who could formulate a respectable argument. Asur, was it? Ah, good times.
I suspect Mike was just throwing out some red meat to see who would take the bait. He was trolling, and he is terribly biased without being aware of it.
If the Dems really thought that the public would support their brinkmanship over DACA, they are seriously delusional.
The fact is that I’m not really trying to change minds, here, and if people don’t want to read my posts, I’m fine with that. I’m happy to have the forum to vent. As for the “recognition of bias”, I’ll take that at face value. Definitely surprised by the “just wanted to see how the comments would pan out against me”, though.
Oh – and not exactly a spring chicken myself. I was around to have been vaccinated against Polio by taking the Sabin vaccine, before Jonas Salk sweetened the pot.
Definitely surprised by the “just wanted to see how the comments would pan out against me”, though.
He gots to have his fig leafs. Well, to be “fair” I kinda forced Mike to respond with my Shame the majority (all?) of your points will be ignored by the host comment.
Excellent post, dh.
I have a couple of other considerations. As neither a Democrat nor Republican, and indeed someone who finds all the US political points slightly off-centre, affected by the pull of cultural issues I almost but don’t quite recognise, I see two things here:
1. The cynics have it, in terms of the short question. The Democrats were withholding their consent, not to the content of the bill, but as a blackmailing leverage on the subjecty of DACA. This could be a praiseworthy move, if the object was genuine and if it had a reasonable chance of being effective in securing their goals on DACA, and if those goals were just. However, they caved in just three days. The cynical view was that they were using the issue to turn the public against the Republicans, and it wasn’t about the DACA recipients at all. If the Democrats really wanted the DACA concessions, and were willing to take the responsibility for achieving that goal, they would have held out for more than three days. We are therefore left believing that the Democrats thought they could score a PR victory, saw public opinion turning against them, and cut their losses before they took a serious hit. This was all about their positioning for the mid-terms, and they lost but got out before losing badly.
2. In the long question, the “blame” should go to former President Obama. Obama bent the law. With DACA, he went beyond setting priorities for immigration enforcement to a quasi-legal registration system. In doing this, he set up either a wedge issue for use by his successor, if he was succeeded by a Democrat who wanted more immigration, or a Poison Pill if he was succeeded by a Republican who wanted more immigration. Whoever his successor was would be faced with the evening news showing the most sympathetic and photogenic of the recipients, to be used or whipped with. I’m pretty sure that Donald Trump has seen poison pills before, and elected to handle this one with a chomp and spit, handing the problem off to Congress. His handling seems to have been effective.
Oops. In my second point, the sentence should read “In doing this, he set up either a wedge issue for use by his successor, if he was succeeded by a Democrat who wanted more immigration, or a Poison Pill if he was succeeded by a Republican who wanted LESS immigration.”
One does not have to be a cynic to realize how things work.
Michael LaBossiere says
True, the US has a significant amount of policy that is based on executive orders rather than laws. But, congress also tends to push the presidents to this by not tackling problems like immigration. This holds for Democrats and Republicans.
Indeed, Congress leaves a lot to the President, just as the people leave far too much of constitutional change to the Supreme Court, but the question in this case was more specific: who is to “blame” for the current situation (now resolved).
And I still believe the answer is clear. Obama placed a splinter in the side of the US Immigration system, deliberately leaving it there to be pulled out by his successor, because he could not convince the people or the House that they should do more in his direction. The Democrats thought they could trade on that in this case, and found that they don’t have the support either.
The Dems could have solved immigration when they controlled the House, the Senate, and the Presidency. Why didn’t they?
“WAPO: Democrats just got rolled. They can blame Barack Obama. “If he had wanted to act, he could have. Obama’s party controlled the House, and Democrats had a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority. If Obama really wanted to pass either the Dream Act or comprehensive immigration reform, Republicans were powerless to stop him. But he didn’t do it.”
He didn’t do it because it was highly unpopular and would have seriously damaged the Democrats’ position. Dem strategy has always been to sucker the Republicans into taking this highly unpopular move, after which Democrats would happily reap the benefits of imported voters.”
Mark Steyn nails it.