By Dan Froomkin
U.S. news reports are largely blaming the government shutdown on the inability of both political parties to come to terms. It is supposedly the result of a “bitterly divided” Congress that “failed to reach agreement” (Washington Post) or “a bitter budget standoff” left unresolved by “rapid-fire back and forth legislative maneuvers” (New York Times). This sort of false equivalence is not just a failure of journalism. It is also a failure of democracy.
When the political leadership of this country is incapable of even keeping the government open, a political course correction is in order. But how can democracy self-correct if the public does not understand where the problem lies? And where will the pressure for change come from if journalists do not hold the responsible parties accountable?
The truth of what happened Monday night, as almost all political reporters know full well, is that “Republicans staged a series of last-ditch efforts to use a once-routine budget procedure to force Democrats to abandon their efforts to extend U.S. health insurance.” (Thank you, Guardian.)
And holding the entire government hostage while demanding the de facto repeal of a president’s signature legislation and not even bothering to negotiate is by any reasonable standard an extreme political act. It is an attempt to make an end run around the normal legislative process. There is no historical precedent for it. The last shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996, were not the product of unilateral demands to scrap existing law; they took place during a period of give-and-take budget negotiations.