The U.S. government shutdown is all the Republicans’ fault, right?

Unless it’s a pox on both their houses
The sun rises behind the Capitol Dome early in the morning before the ceremonial swearing-in of President Barack Obama at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

“As the U.S. government shutdown lurches into a third day, fresh embarrassment is emerging as the outside world weighs in on the shambolic state of American democracy.”—the Toronto Star‘s Mitch Potter

Talking about American politics is a hell of a frustrating exercise.

The federal government partially shut down on Monday because a disgruntled group of legislators is unwilling to give up on a crusade to defeat constitutionally sound healthcare reform. Partisan voices on both sides of the impasse that’s followed, if you can call it an impasse, bicker among themselves relentlessly in a rhetorical race to the bottom. There’s no end in sight. Meanwhile, the country faces an economic disaster if that same entrenched legislators can’t agree to avoid defaulting on the country’s debt.

For days, the government shutdown was widely reported as a showdown between Democrats and Republicans, who disagreed more or less on equal footing. Republicans wanted this, Democrats wanted this, they didn’t agree, and so much of the government ceased operations until the two sides could shake hands. This corner of the internet referred to the whole affair as a “dangerous game of chicken” in Washington, D.C.

That characterization is true in the very narrow sense that legislators from both parties do disagree about something, and neither side is willing to budge. But a few loud voices call that perspective utterly problematic. Jon Stewart played a role, as he does. Rachel Maddow played a role, as she does. Dan Froomkin, writing for Al-Jazeera, played a role.

Their basic view: This is all the fault of Republicans, and no one should be afraid to say it. Republicans decided to demand that Obamacare be defunded, lest the government stop spending money and partially shut down its services. Republicans knowingly did this, even though Obamacare survived an election and a constitutional challenge. Democrats refuse to negotiate with Republicans because they passed a law, that law survived an election and a constitutional challenge, and that’s not negotiable.

Stewart called the Republican strategy “utter insanity.” Maddow said electing Republicans means they “will burn the place down.” Froomkin, the least hyperbolic of the trio, called it “an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process.”

Froomkin takes reporters to task for not calling out Republicans. “The shutdown is not generalized dysfunction or gridlock or stalemate,” he writes. “It is aberrational behavior by a political party that is willing to take extreme and potentially damaging action to get its way. And by not calling it what it is, the political press is enabling it.”

Politics are complicated even when they’re supposed to be straightforward. Right now, just about nothing is straightforward. Until everyone agrees that Republicans are responsible for the loss of the panda cam. Right?


What’s above the fold

The Globe and MailPEI and Ontario want to talk pension reform with Jim Flaherty.
National PostGeorge Parros is a Princeton-educated NHL tough guy.
Toronto StarToronto Mayor Rob Ford‘s friend was charged with several offences.
Ottawa CitizenThe driver in Ottawa’s bus-train collision was honoured at a service.
CBC NewsPrime Minister Stephen Harper heads to southeast Asia this morning.
CTV NewsHarper hopes to talk trade at the APEC summit.
National NewswatchFederal polls are tightening as the return of Parliament nears.

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