How the right sees the shutdown debacle

From Breitbart, to Fox, to Townhall, a brief tour of how right-wing media is thinking about the GOP's brinkmanship

Published September 30, 2013 6:15PM (EDT)

While polling may show the American people will blame Republicans for a government shutdown, the sentiment among the right-wing media is hardly one of universal concern or agitation. On the contrary, a look through some of the right's most influential media hubs shows that conservatives not only diverge from the mainstream when it comes to apportioning blame for a shutdown, but differ from expert consensus when it comes to the economic consequences of a shutdown, too.

In the right's eyes, the shutdown is both a Democratic plot to trick the public and undo the GOP and, potentially, a good thing for the economy.

Joel Pollack, editor in chief of Breitbart news, has penned what is perhaps the best representation of the optimism coursing through the right-wing discourse over a potential shutdown (or debt default; it's not clear whether Pollack is writing about one or both). The piece, "Republicans' Obamacare Delay is a Winning Position," is an extremely sunny analysis of how brinkmanship over a government shutdown or debt default would affect the GOP. Nowhere in his text does Pollack cite any public opinion polling to back up his belief that the public will side with Republicans. Instead, Pollack focuses on the "reasonable alternative" to Democrats' no-negotiations standpoint the GOP has put forward — and the fact that the Republican position will not be one based on "abstract terms."

Pollack writes:

Unlike the debt ceiling talks of 2011, this time Republicans are not speaking in abstract terms about long-term shortfalls and unfunded entitlement liabilities (though they cannot avoid those subjects for much longer). They have made the battle about something that has a real, concrete effect on people’s lives--an effect millions of households are facing, as of Tuesday, in new insurance costs, lost coverage and limited work opportunities.

This time around, the Democrats are the ones arguing a case in the abstract--namely, the benefits of Obamacare--which even the uninsured and those with pre-existing health conditions, who are meant to benefit most directly from the law, have largely ignored. An eleven-page section of the recent issue of Consumer Reports is the closest anyone has come to explaining Obamacare--and observes that the law “may need to be fixed.”

However, not everyone on the right is as sanguine about the likely political consequences of a shutdown. Washington Post columnist (and preeminent torture apologist) Marc Thiessen argues that the GOP should tie its Obamacare demands to raising the debt ceiling — and not to funding the government. The problem with the latter strategy, Thiessen claims, is it ignores "Hostage Taking 101" by failing to take a hostage the other side cares about. "Obama and the Democrats don’t care about stopping a government shutdown," Thiessen writes before claiming that Democrats will be "celebrating" a government shutdown and the bad press for Republicans it would inspire.

Believing that the GOP "took the wrong hostage," as Thiessen puts it, requires accepting the premise that a government shutdown would indeed have negative effects. On that score, not all right-wingers are in agreement. As documented by the liberal Media Matters, Stuart Varney of Fox Business has argued that a government shutdown "is not that big a deal for Wall Street" and that there are "a couple of positives out of the shutdown." As Media Matters also documents, expert opinion disagrees; Mark Zandi, Moody's Analytics' chief economist, has claimed that even a shutdown as short as four days would trim fourth-quarter GDP by 0.2 percentage points.

For some on the right, however, questions of political efficacy or economic calamity are beside the point. As Star Parker of the right-wing Townhall puts it, "the principles of our free nation under God are under siege," and require conservatives to mount an equivalently dramatic response in kind. Parker goes on to compare the right's crusade against Obamacare to Abraham Lincoln's struggle with American slavery: "When Abraham Lincoln took office, he still believed that slavery could be purged from America through deliberation. But soon it became clear that only war would do it." Bucking Pollack's contention that Republicans have found a "reasonable" compromise position, Parker goes on to argue that conciliation should be out of the question: "It is a time for confrontation, not compromise."

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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