I wrote a column about the shutdown that I actually liked, then I ran out of room to print it in this week’s Outpost. I will try to repurpose it somehow, but in the meantime you might as well read it:
Salon reports that filmmaker Jen Senko is making a documentary called “The Brainwashing of My Dad.” It’s about how her father started listening to talk radio on long drives to work and gradually turned into a rabid conservative who angrily attacked anyone who expressed a liberal idea.
The same thing is happening to me. In reverse.
The Outpost turns 16 years old this week, and in just about every one of the weeks in all of those years, I have spent a long day delivering the paper all over town. To pass the time, I listen to talk radio, from the anodyne ramblings of Aaron Flint in the morning, to the mellow drone of Rush Limbaugh and Mike Huckabee through the noon hour, to the spittle-specked diatribes of Mark Levin in the late afternoon. I occasionally write reports about what I have heard on my Billings Blog.
All that talk can’t have been good for me. Instead of turning me into a believer, it has made me more hostile to conservative rhetoric than I ever imagined possible.
Last Thursday, I felt myself flying into a rage when Mr. Flint repeatedly alleged that President Obama was to blame for the government shutdown. “There is one side that will not negotiate,” he kept repeating.
I know Aaron a little bit, and he once gave a generous talk to my journalism students that I still cite as a model for how to succeed in 21st century media.
He is not a stupid man. So how could he be saying such stupid things?
Anybody who listens to Sean Hannity even once a week, as I do, knows why the shutdown really happened. It’s just about all Hannity talked about for months, and he had dozens of visits from Republican lawmakers to discuss the idea.
The plan was simple. Introduce a continuing resolution funding everything in the federal budget but Obamacare. The Republican House would (and did) pass it. Perhaps enough squishy Democrats would cave to get it through the Senate (they didn’t), and perhaps an intimidated President Obama would sign it (yeah, right).
If the resolution didn’t pass, then Republicans would simply let the government shut down, pass a series of bills funding the most popular and visible parts of government, crank up the talk-radio microphone and blame everything on Democrats.
Democrats wouldn’t dare reject those bills, and if they did, public opinion would rally against them until they gave in. Eventually, Republicans would get everything they wanted, with none of that fattening Obamacare.
The strategy was so transparent that anybody over the age of 3 could have seen through it (note to 3-year-olds who may feel slighted: Grow up! Get over it!). Even Democrats could figure out what Republicans were up to, and they refused to go along.
In all of the hours I heard Hannity and his GOP conspirators discuss this strategy, I never once heard them mention what would happen next. Apparently they never thought that far ahead. So at this writing, the government is shut down, default is looming, and talk show hosts are reduced to attacking Obama for laying off not only obscure bureaucrats but also park rangers and people who make sure veterans benefits are paid.
They accuse Obama of deliberately making the cuts as painful as possible. Is that true? I don’t know, but if I were in Obama’s position that is exactly what I would do.
Not only would I shut down parks and close monuments, I would block roads, mothball military bases, refuse to pay soldiers and deny back pay to laid-off workers. I would tell Republicans, you want to get rid of government? You got it.
You may say: How can you possibly in good conscience refuse to pay people who are out there risking their lives to keep America safe? I would reply: You can’t. If Congress had been acting in good conscience, we never would have gotten into this mess to begin with. The more painful the shutdown is, the faster voters will come to their senses and start electing people who can govern.
The very idea. You’ve got thousands of government workers out there serving their country, enforcing our laws, dealing with obnoxious taxpayers, mending our roads and carrying out our garbage, and you’re laying them off to score political points? Not in my country.
Then I would go out in public and bash Republicans every day. I would yell and scream at them, call them names, question their lineage. I would attack their patriotism, accuse them of treason, brand them as racists.
Because that’s how politics works in America. It’s something I learned by listening to talk radio.