Why the Shutdown Is Hurting All of Us, and Why That Doesn't Matter

"They don't know the difference between soil and dirt."

Two more quick instances of the wanton damage that 30-odd legislators (named here) are doing to Americans at two levels: those running small businesses, and those working in the large research institutions on which so much of our long-term wealth and well-being depend. 

First, small business. Scott Slesinger of the NRDC reports on the 51-room, family-run Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. It is being forced to close, cancel future reservations, and even evict current visitors because it is inside National Park territory. From Slesinger's account (also source of the photo):

[T]he government shutdown forced closures of picnic areas and other businesses along the 469-mile parkway. America’s most visited site in the National Park Service draws 15 million people a year and October is one if the busiest months because of the turning of the leaves.

The Pisgah Inn operators, who have a concession contract to run the facility owned by the federal government, initially tried to keep it open. But the park service—out of cash for the fiscal year that began on October 1—gave them until 6 p.m. Thursday, and showed up to lock the entry gates. “They forced us to close,” an Inn employee said, adding they had to kick out some six dozen guests and spent Friday calling dozens more to cancel upcoming overnight reservations. 

Now, national-scale public health. An acclaimed virologist at an East Coast university talks about short- and long-term consequences:

Just don't get the flu next year and you will be OK. I happen to be vetted for a Federal committee that decides on which influenza antigens to use in next year's vaccine.  It doesn't take much imagination to figure out how fast this is going during The Shutdown.

[This researcher's lab is internationally recognized for having discovered two different viral causes of cancer, and yet] our research funding has been cut, a moving target, but somewhere between -10 and 25%.

I just received an email from one of my more talented post-docs who took a job at FDA as a scientist several years ago.  They couldn't hire him on as permanent science staff because of temporary hiring blocks, "The Sequester". and so forth.

Since they are no longer giving him a paycheck, he says to hell with it and he is looking for a job in private biotechnology.  

The problem with Congressional Republicans is that they do not know the difference between soil and dirt.  If you put soil in your oven and bake it at 450 C for an hour, it turns into dirt.  It doesn't matter how much manure you throw on dirt, it won't become soil again.   It's dirt with shit on it.

And while I'm at it, a followup to an earlier item about the shutdown-limited satellite and weather info available to the Coast Guard:

This column of yours strikes near and dear to my heart: my son is a member of the US Coast Guard, and serves aboard an ocean-going cutter.

It’s not just the people they’re trying to rescue who are at risk: it’s the members of this (small but mighty) service branch as well. Some of those waters they sail can get treacherous. Oh -- and he’s scheduled to deploy soon.

Now, the really depressing part: Why none of this matters. Like Robert Costa of National Review, whose reporting on the Republican hard-line faction has clarified why they are willing to wreak so much damage on so many fellow citizens, McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed has been very well sourced among Republicans. Read his account "Where Ted Cruz Is Coming From" for an understanding of how irrelevant any normal concept of "compromise," "leverage," or "public opinion" is with the hard-line faction. And also how contemptible John Boehner* is for protecting his own job, by catering to these people, at the costs of hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country. Coppins writes: 

From its genesis in 2009, the Tea Party movement has been fueled by the rhetoric of revolution.... While Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Angle outraged mainstream political observers when she suggested people may start looking for “Second Amendment remedies” to the country’s problems, one recent survey showed that nearly half of Republicans believe armed insurrection might be necessary “in the next few years.”

Data points like those have long been Democrats’ bread and butter as they work to cast the Tea Party as “extreme.” But they also show just how extreme conservatives consider America’s current peril to be. To believe an armed revolution could realistically be on the horizon is to live with the genuine suspicion that your government could, at any point, be overtaken by tyranny. In that context, some temporary furloughs seem like a small price to pay....

[M]any Tea Party lawmakers view Obamacare as such a catastrophic threat to the country’s healthcare system and long-term economic health that it’s worth the high-stakes legislative brinksmanship to try to slow it down.

At least, that’s what they hear when they return to their districts.

* Why do I single out the affable-seeming Boehner for contempt? He obviously is not a Tea Party hardliner himself. And it is within his power to end this damage in a minute, simply by allowing the House to vote on a "clean" budget measure (which would pass). That would probably cost him his job as Speaker — but his failure to do so is costing many other people their jobs, not to mention longer-term effects. To me, that defines contemptible.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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