Obama won't lead
Craig Eyermann is a research fellow with The Independent Institute, an Oakland, Calif.-based think tank. Eyermann spoke to the Trib regarding the climate in Washington, D.C., that led to Tuesday's federal government shutdown.
Q: Do you believe the atmosphere in Washington is more toxic today than it was the last time the federal government shut down in 1995?
A: I would argue that, yes, that is the case. A lot of that is just the nature of how partisan politics have developed over the last 20-odd years. Since that time, we've had more of a partisan division within Congress. For instance, there is no such thing as Blue Dog Democrats anymore — you know, Democrats who were relatively conservative on fiscal issues. Most of them are extinct, and the Democratic Party has shifted far to the left as a result.
Q: Have we reached a point where posturing has become more popular than actual governing?
A: I would say so, and I would actually attribute that mostly as a failure of executive leadership. The legislative (branch), by design, is going to be divided up between the political parties. On the executive side, the (president) has the role of taking charge in terms of setting priorities (and saying), “We are going to bring people together to negotiate this and we are not going to leave until we do whatever it takes to come up with a compromise or an agreement.” That's the thing that's really missing from all of this.
Q: Do these types of dramas pose any real threat to the nation's political fabric, or are they more manufactured crises that ultimately don't do much more than provide fodder for the 24-hour news cycle?
A: I think there is an element of grandstanding going on here. I think, look at the stakes for President Obama on this. He is in a situation where he requires the support of the base of the Democratic Party. I think to a large extent that is driving the lack of a desire to compromise at all on his part or even negotiate with congressional leaders.
Q: Do you expect the shutdown to have much of an impact on the economy?
A: No. I actually did the math for 800,000 federal government employees being furloughed. I figure it will take about 134 days before you could shave a tenth of a point off of the country's gross domestic product.
Q: Do you believe government by crisis is here to stay?
A: It depends who is in the White House. That's going to be very much (dependent) on the executive style of whoever is president.
Q: We're witnessing a government that attempts to function largely via threat and ultimatum these days. Would it be reasonable for the American people to conclude the wheels have fallen off of the government?
A: Yes and no. It boils down to, if you want to fix the problem, you change who is in the government.
Q: Sweeping change doesn't appear likely, so it's kind of like the line in the old Pogo comic strip — “We have met the enemy and he is us.” You're saying that if we're truly unhappy about what we're getting in Washington that it's incumbent upon us to do something about it?
A: No one else has the ability to do it.
Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or firstname.lastname@example.org).