(Credit: Reuters/Jim Bourg)
If a government shutdown genuinely shut the entire government down, you might be able to trace a few silver linings from an otherwise bad situation. Military conflicts might end (or at least be temporarily suspended), the destructive drug war might grind to a halt, mass surveillance might be put on hold and congressional legislators might be financially punished for their malicious behavior. But a government shutdown is mostly just a shutdown of good things -- stuff like Head Start and food assistance to low-income moms and kids. Indeed, because of the way shutdowns are structured, the only silver lining from a budget stalemate is that you might get to hear a few curse words and see some nudity on television.
Of course, there is an insidious method to the madness of government shutdowns. In general, the dividing line between what gets shut down and what doesn't is a similar dividing line between what America's political culture typically venerates as The State and what that culture lambasts as The Government. Consider what will not be shut down:
- The State's war machine is largely exempted from the shutdown. Sure, the Armed Forces' football season is in jeopardy. But our wars will press on unabated and many military paychecks -- including to private contractors -- will continue to be issued, even as other federal workers are furloughed.
- Many key parts of The State's surveillance apparatus are exempted from the shutdown. That's not to say the shutdown affects nothing at the NSA. The agency cannot, for instance, respond to the public's Freedom of Information Act requests (which is convenient for the NSA). And some of its employees are, in fact, furloughed. But a lot of the spying will still go on.
- Despite its failures and rampant waste, much of the Drug War is exempted from the shutdown. So are many of The State's other police-related activities.
- The government shutdown does not affect the Internal Revenue Service's ability to collect taxes. It only means you can't get your tax questions answered.
- The lawmakers who orchestrated the government shutdown are exempted from the government shutdown. Yes, they will still be getting handsomely remunerated, without having to worry that they might lose their paychecks like other federal employees.
So, in sum, major portions of The State -- aka the Military-Industrial Complex, the Police State, the revenue-generating apparatus of the IRS and professional politicians in Washington -- are somewhat exempted from the effects of the shutdown. Meanwhile, The Government -- aka the Safety Net, the Regulators and the Inspectors -- gets hit hard.