Government 404 Error
It was a lovely day. Everything in the Capital, it seemed, was closed due to the shutdown, and traffic was sparse so I wandered downtown to see how things were faring. My favorite spot was packed with White House aides leaking fake inside tips to credulous pressmen, and I really didn't want to be there. I asked the bartender for a carryout sandwich and coffee and headed to Lafayette Park across the street from the White House.
I found a nice empty bench, spread my things out and minutes later a chubby fellow in a BGIU T-shirt asked if I minded sharing the bench. "No, of course not," I answered, moving some stuff to make sure he had plenty of room.
"What's BGIU?" I asked. "I've never heard of that one before."
"It's Big Government Is Us," he answered. We're a group of citizens who think government should get ever bigger, unlike those tea party nuts."
"Bigger? I mean the whole shebang seems to be on autopilot with a permanent, unaccountable civil service already running the show. Federal spending is now $250 billion a month and even with the shutdown and all non-essential employees furloughed we still spend 80% of that without any congressional control. How do you square that with the Constitutional prohibition against spending money without Congressional appropriations?"
My bench mate looked away and I saw a tear running down his cheek.
"Everybody knows now," he sobbed. He reached down into his briefcase and pulled out a stack of clippings. Handing one to me, he said, "Look at what I mean."
It was a Washington Post blog:
What we found is that the conservative opinion shift Professor Bartels highlighted repeats itself in every state.
The figure below presents one illustration of this pattern. Here we compare the policy mood in each state in the early 1960s (hollow dots) and in the early 2000s (solid dots). Higher values indicate a more conservative policy mood. In each instance, the solid dot is to the right of the hollow dot, suggesting that the public's policy mood has moved in a conservative direction in every state. Furthermore, most of these increases are statistically significant.
Surprised by this uniform shift across states, we examined two questions about government that the American National Election Study asked in the early 1960s and 2000s. Because we were dealing with much smaller sample sizes, we analyzed regions instead of states. Again, the data suggest that all regions of the country have shifted in a conservative direction.
The second question, reported in the right panel, asked whether or not the government in Washington was getting too powerful. Across all regions, we again see opinion has shifted to the right.
I could sense this was going to be a long unburdening by this distraught fellow, so I offered him half my sandwich.
"Thanks," he muttered, "This week has made it even worse. It's not just the heavy-handed treatment of visitors at Yellowstone whom the rangers confined at gunpoint to their hotel; or the cutting off of entry to homes and private establishments on public land, but the threat to cut off VA benefits even though the House almost unanimously voted to restore them. Worst of all was the cutoff of death benefits to the families of fallen soldiers."
My lunch companion handed me another sheet to read as he quickly began devouring his half of the sandwich.
What is (or ought to be) shocking about this story is that some bright light in the Pentagon advised that the legal authority to continue these death benefits was ambiguous, so the safer course would be to discontinue them and blame the Republican shutdown. And rather than throw the fool out and demand better lawyers, Defense Secretary Hagel, who normally pretends to care about the troops he notionally leads, played along. What, they were worried that an aggressive Inspector General or House Committee would be outraged by this possible overstep of authority and demand impeachment? I guess the legal haze has cleared and statutory intent (don't screw the troops, even dead ones) has come clear to them.
That said, I do see their subtle plan. Now that Moodys has joined the debt default deniers, the notion that the Treasury can prioritize payments to avoid a default on US Government securities has gotten new life. I think Team Obama is trying to convince us that they really do have the sort of mix of incompetence (cf the Obamacare website) and evil that would lead the Treasury to screw up its cash management and default on an interest or principal payment just for the political theatre.
"These petty acts do seem to have riled up voters." I responded, handing him back his paper.
"You aren't kidding, I'll get to the ObamaCare website in a minute, but even before folks got furious when they couldn't get beyond 404 error on the ObamaCare website we shelled out $634 million to create, they were already up in arms."
He wiped his face with a hanky and handed me some more stuff to read:
There was David Horowitz, unusually optimistic about the turn of events:
The good news is that the bad five years we have just been through have aroused a sleeping giant among Americans who didn't see it coming and couldn't imagine that it would. For the first time since the Cold War, people with a public voice are calling socialists by their right name; conservatives are finally organizing at the grassroots to defend their freedom; and at last we have leaders who are willing to stand up to the thuggery of the left and who have the spine not to back down.
And the Fiscal Times went so far as to suggest the civil-service system ought to be scrapped:
the civil-service system has been exposed as a failure -- at least in this administration. Instead of an independent workforce of professionals who implement federal regulation in an even-handed and competent manner, we have returned to the era of partisan retribution and politically-motivated malevolence. . . . It's part of a disturbing pattern emerging in the second term of Barack Obama. When law enforcement and tax enforcement become rankly political, Americans can no longer trust in their federal government, even when it's not shut down -- and that won't stop after Obama leaves office, either. We are getting a clear lesson on the risks of larger government and regulatory overreach, and those risks go far beyond incompetence."
Looking back over recent events, I recall the attorneys who railroaded Senator Stevens out of office, giving the Democrats a majority in the Senate, were not really punished; Lois Lerner who quite obviously worked with the Administration to use the IRS to punish and hamstring Obama's opponents, will retire with over $100,000 a year and no prosecution is in sight; Attorney General Holder has used the Department's Civil Rights and Voting act section in much the same way, presided over a failed scheme that put weapons in the hands of Mexican drug lords, and has ignored a Congressional contempt citation against himself while refusing to take action against civil servants who quite obviously have been violating federal law. (The only people in the government being fired are high military officials, two more of whom were relieved of command this week, continuing an unprecedented military command turnover.)
And, then, the capper this week was the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, a kerfuffle so substantial even NBC's Brian Williams took notice of it and Wolf Blitzer suggested Obama might have been wise to take up the Republican offer to delay the whole thing for a year until the bugs could be worked out of the system.
"I blame Amazon," my lunch companion sniffled, shoving his crumpled papers back in the briefcase. Yeah, the rollout was terrible, but it's made worse because more people deal everyday with online sites that work, like Amazon and PayPal, and the contrast is enormous. Ditto for the U.S. Post Office versus Fed Ex or UPS. When people had no comparison with stuff that worked, we were in clover."
He handed me a copy of USA Today as he took his leave. "See what I mean?" he said, wandering off.
The contrast between the 21st century successes of companies such as Orbital Sciences and SpaceX, and our ongoing government showdowns and screw-ups here on Earth, is particularly striking at the moment. But the tension between these two worlds is always there.
In Washington, penalties for failure are few: Has anyone been fired over the Obamacare launch debacle? Problems are always the fault of circumstances, or the Evil Opposition, or are simply swept under the rug. Of course, that means there's not much learning from mistakes, and "more of the same, only we'll try harder!" is a common response. As in The Hunger Games, life is always posh in Capital City; suffering is for the poor schlubs out in the provinces.
In the world that works, on the other hand, mistakes are painful: They cost people jobs, they cost investors money, they result in bad publicity that's harder to explain away. Thus, people learn from them. Unsurprisingly, the world that works is where the money that Washington spends ultimately comes from.
The problem is that the bigger Washington gets, the less room is left for the world that works. As more and more of American life is taken over by the world of politics -- in which wealth is not generated, but taken from one's opponents and distributed to one's supporters -- a smaller share is left for the world that works.
Politicians don't care about that; like two-year-olds in an ice cream parlor, all they want is more. But the rest of us should think long and hard about how many resources we should allow politicians to control, given their track record lately. Because Washington is clearly a world that doesn't work
We can communicate with our government officials but it's always 404 error -- they cannot seem to find what we are searching for: Less government.