I haven’t had much to say about the partial government shutdown/debt ceiling squabble because I find it simultaneously confusing, irritating, and boring. I wouldn’t have adopted the strategy of Ted Cruz and the House Republicans, but I hold out hope that all the huffing and puffing on both sides produces some marginal improvement in policy. I don’t really have anything to add to all the commentary on the politics of the partial shutdown, but the last week has been revealed a gap in the right-of-center media ecosystem.
Since the beginning of the shutdown, the Obama administration has tried to make the shut down as painful as possible and does so with obvious malice. They have barricaded and then wired shut open air monuments. They’ve tried to bar people from pulling off the side of the road to even look at Mount Rushmore. Who can forget about Harry Reid arguing that if he can’t have everything he wants, then pediatric cancer research will just have to languish.
One cynical way of looking at this is that it is just the Democrats playing hardball. That isn’t showing enough imagination. Imagine if the roles were reversed. The mainstream media have treated the malicious closures as largely agency issues. World War II veterans were being kept out of the memorials but public attention allowed them to get in. Members of Congress were shone pointing fingers about who was at fault. If this were a Republican administration’s park service that tried to keep the veterans out, then it would be an administration story and every question to the president’s press secretary would have been of the “Who ordered the code red!?! I want the truth for the greatest generation!!!” variety. In other words, the major networks would have covered it like Fox News.
But it is even worse for a liberal Democratic administration. They are the side in favor of relatively bigger and more omnicompetent government. Watching them use government power with malice and purposeful incompetence undermines their case. If they, in their pettiness, deploy their limited personnel to harass the public, maybe they aren’t such a good fit to transform the health care system. That would be a powerful argument - if persuadable voters heard much about it.
The right-leaning commercial media has limited reach. Only a minority of the country hears much from them. The mainstream news and entertainment media will usually tend to ignore, downplay, or muddle stories that are inconvenient to the center-left political coalition. Concerted effort by conservative activists can occasionally get the mainstream media to increase their coverage of a story, but it will never turn that story into a feeding frenzy.
That leaves paid media. There are vast quantities of money sloshing around on the center-right. A nimble, well-funded conservative media apparatus would already have ad buys on entertainment television and Hulu about the Obama administration shut down antics. The story would be an administration going out of its way to inconvenience the public in order to shift blame to its opponents. A wise, well-funded conservative media apparatus would focus on popularizing a few key right-of-center policies and thereby make it easier for candidates to run on and implement those policies.
What we are stuck with is a Super PAC apparatus that produces worthless election year ads featuring old, white, affluent people complaining that Obama is taxing and regulating them too much. These ads don’t seem designed to win over persuadables, or even to energize the base. These ads seem to exist so that Republican campaign consultants can, with a minimum of effort, show Republican donors that ads are being produced and aired. This is how hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted. This is how opportunities to improve the public debate are being missed every single day.