A Guide to the Shutdown, Featuring Howie Carr

The Herald columnist is characterizing the federal shutdown as no big deal.

Zach Twedt, Robert Olson

Associated Press

As the federal government remains partially shuttered, most Democrats and Republicans are battling over who to blame for the inconveniences it is causing to World War II veterans, panda lovers, and government workers who were counting on getting paid this week. People can disagree but for now at least, polls show that more Americans disapprove of the House Republicans’ shutdown strategy.

So up here in Massachusetts, our conservative organ the Boston Herald is taking a different tactic: downplaying the shutdown’s impact. Today, this job has fallen mainly to the Herald’s chief crank Howie Carr. Carr’s column asks a lot of questions. They were probably rhetorical, but as a little guide to the shutdown, we’d like to answer them anyway.

“What if they gave a government shutdown and nobody noticed?”

That would be a strange thing, indeed. But it appears that many people have noticed. Though the Boston Herald hasn’t put the shutdown on their front page this week, most major newspapers have. “Capital digs in for the long haul,” the Wall Street Journal declares in a headline that spans their front page, above the fold. “House of Turds,”  the New York Daily News screamed yesterday.

 “And what about all these “furloughed” federal workers? Nobody even seems to know how many of them there really are, 800,000, 900,000, probably closer to a million.”

It’s true we don’t have a number, but the best guess is closer to 800,000 than 1 million. “A Wall Street Journal review of agencies’ shutdown plans found that more than 818,000 workers would be furloughed,” the paper reported.

“This is not a shutdown, OK?”

It isn’t?

“Fox News came closest, calling it a ‘partial shutdown.’ More accurate yet: ‘a long weekend.’ Or maybe: ‘vacation with pay.'”

Well a Google News search for the words “partial shutdown” actually returns hundreds of stories from dozens of media outlets, not just Fox News. And actually, Fox uses the shorthand “shutdown” on occasion, too. But you’re right. Many aspects of the government continue to function. That doesn’t make it more accurate to call it a “long weekend,” if for no other reason than it began on Tuesday. And for now, it is a vacation without pay. Even government workers who do have to report to work may find their paychecks delayed because of slowed government functioning, The Washington Post reports. While it does seem likely that Congress will offer furloughed employees backpay for the time they missed, in which case, this is kind of like a paid vacation, not everyone is on board with granting it. Some Congressional Republicans think 800,000 people shouldn’t take a paycheck for the days that the Congressional Republicans have expressly forbidden them from attending their jobs.

“Does anyone ever suffer in these things, except in Ed Markey press releases?”

Well … yes. It is in the interest of Democrats to sell the harm the shutdown is causing to all sorts of sympathetic Americans, from old World War II vets who wanted to see their memorial on the national mall to young mothers and pregnant women who use the Women, Infants and Children program to purchase nutritional food for their babies, but won’t when it runs out of funding in a few days, to child cancer patients who aren’t being admitted to NIH clinical studies.

But it isn’t as if Ed Markey went to central casting and hired these people. They’re real. Sure, they aren’t starving. (Well, maybe the pregnant women are.) But they are disappointed in their government.

But it’s unfair to call the conservative strategy of underselling the shutdown’s impact nothing more than an attempt to mitigate the PR harm the Republican party. In fairness, it really does gel with their intellectual worldview, which sees most areas of government as unnecessary. Carr can laugh at the 800,000 “non-essential” employees hired by the federal government, and say that because the world hasn’t ended with their mini-vacation, we should do away with them altogether. But it does seem like he’s in the minority. Most Americans seem not to mind that the government builds monuments and museums to our history and heritage and hires people to run them. Or that it sponsors clinical studies in cancer research. They’re angry that the government isn’t funding those musuems or those studies this week. Some are mad at Democrats. Some are mad at Republicans. But a lot of them are mad. Even if Howie Carr isn’t.