There’s a rule you learn the first time you ever sit on a motorcycle with the engine running. It’s that “The bike goes where your eyes go.” It’s true.
Often events also proceed with how our thoughts go. That’s what worried me about President Donald Trump’s statement Friday. He said he was “totally prepared” for a long lapse in funding. If the politicians are mentally expecting or, worse, okay with a long shutdown, by golly this one could go on. As the ancients put it, “For as one that hath reckoned within himself…”
My question is, where’s the urgency?
If I was dictator, I’d lock up the president, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in a small room of the Capitol with only tap water and fruit cake with garishly colored dried cherries until they reached a compromise. No progress? Pipe in the Nancy Sinatra Christmas album. Gotta go? Here’s a galvanized bucket.
Lapses in funding have a long history. They’ve made regular appearances, as a matter of fact. A 1978 shutdown lasted 18 days. One old Government Accountability Office report lists funding gaps in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1991. They were mostly short, a weekend or a few weekdays. Two shutdowns late in 1995 and early 1996 lasted a total of 27 days. The 2013: 18 days.
Here’s what bugs me: They resolve the unresolvable in two, three or 15 days, after 365 days of neglect and futility. Will they this time?
We may hope, but I’m not confident. Increasingly, the sides in these political fights want to embarrass and humiliate the other side more than they want to reach some sort of agreement. In true compromise, you ensure your opponent saves face. Not so in a cage fight, where the referees, timers, janitors, lighting and sound people, and scorekeepers don’t become collateral damage.
Shutdowns and lapses in appropriations should be catalysts to anxious, fast-paced, urgent negotiations. Instead they threaten to become sieges of attrition. There’s no shame, that’s the troubling part.