Paul Greenberg

So what have we learned from the (not so) Great Shutdown of 2013?

My best guess: nothing much. Which is pretty much what the country learned from the last great shutdown and face-off. Which was back in the 1990s, which now seems like yesterday. Or rather Thursday, which is when the president finally got to sign a debt-(un)limit bill so everything could get back to dangerously normal.

The debt clock can now keep ticking, the country can shrug off its disgust with both political parties, and we can all go blithely on.

Happy Days are Here Again--for a while. Ain't We Got Fun?

It may not be just a coincidence that the only song lyrics that pop into mind when contemplating this latest failure of both sense and government should come from the Roaring Twenties and Depressed Thirties, which followed one another the way hangovers follow binges.

Yes, yes, but what have we learned from all this?

About as much as a couple of other parties learned from their confrontation as recorded by that eminent historian and political philosopher Mother Goose:

The King of France, with twenty thousand men,

Went up the hill, and then came down again;

The king of Spain, with twenty thousand more,

Climbed the same hill the French had climbed before.

Each no doubt drew his own self-serving lesson from that pointless campaign, to wit: Each was absolutely right while they were being absolutely wrong. Both could rest their their defense on what the Church considers grounds for forgiveness: invincible ignorance. . . .

Democrats, or at least their party's establishment, may have learned only that it pays to be stubborn no matter what it costs the country. Or posterity. The polls (our current sovereign and ultimate arbiter) say their party won, and will win some more come next year's elections. Happy Days Are Here Again.

Republicans, or at least those rebelling against their party establishment, will learn nothing. Which is just what they learned a decade ago when Bill Clinton cleaned their clock and was able to go on to re-election, earning a vote of confidence and impeachment in roughly that order.

The piper didn't have to be paid till the whole bubble burst at the end of the Clinton presidency, and by then it was somebody else's problem. Whee-eee!

For now the less than Grand Old Party may remain as ineducable about the great game of politics as before. Never overestimate the intelligence of Republicans, or underestimate their party's uncanny ability to sabotage itself.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.