, Salem, MA


October 14, 2013

Shribman: The upside of the federal shutdown


But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and, to a lesser extent, because she has less power, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California have a slightly different perspective.

The tea partiers are their opponents, to be sure, but they are also their colleagues. This spending debt-ceiling crisis is kind of like the Dual Monarchy of Capitol Hill right now, with all the attendant proclivity to catastrophe possessed by Austria-Hungary a century ago.

But someday this struggle will end, or morph into something else. Obama will be gone from Washington in three years. Many of today’s lawmakers will be in the capital for years to come. Obama may think he is playing for the long term but for him that means the quiet pages (or Web pages) of history. The others look to a noisy future, hostages not so much to history as to each other.

Put another way: For Obama, hell is the next generation’s Henry Steele Commager. For lawmakers, it comes straight out of Sartre’s “Huis Clos”: Hell is other people. And if you’re inclined to say to those denizens of the Hill, “Live with it,” remember that what you mean is this: “Live with each other.” Easier said in the theater of the absurd than done in the absurd theater of politics.

Establishment figures would have put an end to this nonsense, but there is no Establishment anymore.

This new truth of American politics first became evident in 1984, when the Establishment figure in the Democratic Party (former senator and vice president Walter F. Mondale, armed with the endorsement of almost any Democratic politician who mattered, plus the labor movement) barely limped to nomination. It became clearer in 2008, when the Establishment candidate (Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of a president and a senator from a powerhouse state) was defeated by an insurgent born in a country that doubted any black person could be elected president and who had the additional disadvantage of having almost no experience in high office.

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