How is it possible that the president of the United States has decided he does not have to negotiate with the speaker of the House of Representatives over government spending, and yet the public blames the GOP for the current D.C. stalemate?
Like it or not, polls show that two-thirds of Americans view the Republican Party unfavorably (while only 49 percent hold unfavorable attitudes toward the Dems, according to the latest Gallup poll). Worse, Republicans are twice as likely to say they hold unfavorable attitudes toward their own party than Democrats are.
Virtually everyone agrees that the government shutdown hasn't worked the way its advocates intended. While there has been public outrage at some disruptions -- national parks and monuments closed, cancer trials delayed, etc. -- most Americans remain untouched by the shutdown. Federal workers and those who depend on certain government services are the people most affected. The rest of us just go on with our daily lives. Even if failure to raise the debt ceiling poses a more significant threat, most people won't feel it immediately if Congress and the White House fail to come to some agreement.
President Obama can afford to stonewall. He doesn't have to face the voters again. And Democrats have a more reliable voting base than Republicans do. Minorities, single women and the elderly are much more favorably disposed toward government -- and far more dependent on it. Democrats promise to keep the gravy train rolling by soaking the rich. Never mind that there aren't enough rich people to pay for the entitlements Democrats promise down the track, even if government confiscated 100 percent of the income of wealthy taxpayers.
Promising that everyone has to share the pain isn't a popular message -- but that's what Republicans are stuck with. It doesn't matter that they're right. Enough people don't want to hear the GOP mantra that Democrats are safe from paying any price for their failure to rein in entitlement spending.
Once upon a time in Washington, party statesmen could be counted on to rise above purely partisan politics. No more -- and that holds for Democrats every bit as much as Republicans. Where are the cooler heads in the Democratic Party who could persuade the president to deal with the Republicans? Which Democrat is willing to do what Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan did in 1983: take on Social Security entitlements and fashion a bipartisan approach? Which Democrat is willing to admit that Medicare and Medicaid will bankrupt the government if we can't do something to reform these programs?
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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