Your Sunday Shutdown Reader #2

Only one thing is harder than agreeing on blame for the current morass. That is imagining a way out. 

Naturally enough this follows Sunday Shutdown Reader #1, earlier today. And, yes, it's still Sunday where I am, on the West Coast.

Invest in America? Nah, we're closed down. From a member of the U.S. Foreign Service:

Many of us diplomats have been recruiting foreign companies from around the world to attend the first big invest-in-the-USA conference being organized by the US Dept of Commerce on October 31 in Washington DC.

 In 2011 President Obama launched the SelectUSA initiative to bring the federal government into promoting foreign investment in the USA and tasked Commerce's diplomats and the State Dept. to recruit investment.  It's been pretty successful and one of our primary selling points has been the stability of the United States as compared to some of our competitors (e.g. China).  Hundreds of potential investors from 34 countries have registered to attend.  

In the midst of recruitment and preparation for this high-profile investment event the SelectUSA office at Commerce has been furloughed.  The event is threatened and if it has to be cancelled because of the shutdown it will be major egg on our face around the world.  It will pretty much undermine our pitch based on stability.  The Tea Party might not welcome job-creating investments from foreigners but the millions of Americans working for foreign investors probably feel differently.

From an American in Asia:

Hello from Kobe, Japan where it is increasingly embarrassing to explain my country and its Elmer Gantry-like leaders.

I'm reading in Reuters that Boehner now says there is no way the House will pass a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling when something occurred to me that, under normal circumstances I would relegate to the conspiracy bin...

I fear the new plan for the Republican Party is to absolutely refuse to raise the debt ceiling, thereby forcing Obama to take extraordinary measures to stave off a catastrophic global depression, so they can then attempt to impeach him.  They know their policy proposals are garbage and have no chance of being accepted and the only way they can truly save face is by impeaching the President.

On the self-lobotomization front, the shutdown means the end of this year's Antarctic research project. As Scientific American reports:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is likely to cancel the US Antarctic program’s upcoming field season if the US government shutdown persists through mid-October—jeopardizing hundreds of scientists’ work in glaciology, ecology and astrophysics.

But as a reader / tech writer adds, "A nice gap in the data record would make it easier to discredit science in the future."  

And, representing a large number of messages I've received in a similar vein, the ultimate game plan:

I'm just a reader from Florida, but I have worked in politics and am tuned in the state's grassroots political infrastructure, particularly on the right. The rhetoric I am hearing these days is alarming. I have no idea if they constitute a majority of Florida Republicans, but the true believers are looking for a "final victory" over Obama/socialism/the majority of the country who disagree with them. 

Default, to this group, is the objective. They believe that they can take the country back to before the New Deal by somehow forcing a 30 percent cut in government spending overnight. Even if Boehner does climb down, and even if moderates do manage to avoid default, refusing to ever raise the debt limit will become the next GOP litmus test. At this point though I expect the House will fail to raise the limit, the President will invoke the 14th Amendment to prevent catastrophe, and the House will impeach him for it. That will consume the rest of the year's political calendar. 

I've always been a middle-of-the-road guy. But to me, voluntarily forcing the government to default is tantamount to sedition against the United States. There is no precedent for such no-holds-barred political combat outside what Lincoln faced in the 1860s. 

A few more historical allusions:

There is also a touch of "The Guns Of August." [Ie: the automaton-like, unthinking drift into catastrophic war.] The unthinkable could happen given the position the Republican House has locked itself into. There might even be people on the right that wouldn't mind a financial panic as a way to further beggar the country and allow them to undo more social programs than just  the ACA in order to achieve their long-term goal of undoing the New Deal.

I see this growing crises as Obama's Lincoln moment. He must hold firm.

And, the past is not past:

Your reader questions: "'How many times do we have to refight the Civil War?'" 

My answer: The Serbs have been refighting the Battle of Blackbird Fields since 1389.

For the record, a representative example of the pro-shutdown messages that have come in:

On the morning of the dreaded shutdown I awoke expecting to find our society on the verge of collapse, with Americans walking around aimlessly in the streets like zombies with no government bureaucrat to hold their hand through life.

I was pleasantly surprised to find no such chaos.  Most of us who do no rely on our benevolent state for happiness remain unharmed and unaffected by partisan bickering, specifically, our President's refusal to grant individual citizens the same "breather" from this wonderful Obamacare law that those big, evil, greedy corporations were given.

If anything, the shutdown has shown us that the Left is incapable of handling so much power, especially with their bullying of disabled WWII vets to score petty political points.... 

[After I wrote back saying that I was glad that this writer did not work for NASA, NIH, etc, or rely on their works] Spare me the crocodile tears, James.  Suddenly after 5 years of consistently pathetic unemployment numbers, liberals suddenly care about jobs?  

After the jump, one more message on the messiness of figuring out how this all ends. 

A reader in the tech industry writes about a problem even harder than agreeing on blame: imaging a way out. 

In all the talk about the impending shutdown crisis, now expected to blend into the debt ceiling crisis, I’ve seen little discussion of a plausible endgame.  

Obama has said, flatly, that he will not negotiate the debt ceiling. Having said that,  he cannot.  If Obama were to fold and accept substantive cuts to ACA or social security or any of the rest of the GOP demands, the outcry from his supporters would be terrible. He’s spend the rest of his term as a lame duck and would be required to spend decades doing Good Deeds to atone. It can be done — Jimmy Carter did it — but it can’t be pleasant to contemplate.  

But before things get to Obama, are there five Democratic senators who can and will fold? Again, the outcry would be brutal. This would be a terribly tough vote for almost any senator who expects his career to extend beyond the next election, unless they're planning to switch parties. (I expect that Manchin was confident that he'd never have to vote -- at least not more than symbolically)

Having cast his lot as he has, can Boehner be expected to give up now and send a clean bill to the senate and to forgo defaulting in two weeks?  Already, he looks weak to the insiders; this would make him look weak to everybody.  Nor is it easy to see a face-saving concession that he could demand from the Senate that Obama, having pledged not to negotiate, could give him.

In short, key players on each side can easily imagine total victory or total humiliation, while it’s difficult to imagine what anything else would look like.  
How can this conceivably be resolved?... 

I can't see either Obama or Boehner accepting a humiliation which will be an ineradicable stain on their legacy while making their current positions much worse. The stakes for Boehner are high and immediate, since if he can finesse this crisis there is not obvious obstacle to his Speakership before the 2022 redistricting.  A humiliation here leaves him an ex-Congressman next November.  I think most people expected Boehner to find a statesman-like way to deplore the situation and avoid the crisis, but it doesn't look like that’s going to be a possible outcome much longer.

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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.

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