At least the last shutdown had Monica. The presence of Ms. Lewinsky amid the last federal government standoff spawned a legacy of legal showdowns, quasi-celebrities, a new job description for D.C. interns, late-night jokes, purse designs, an introduction of Walt Whitman to new generations and even the ever-present Drudge Report website. Aren’t we all so lucky?
The former president got an Oval Office “moment,” Monica got a stained blue dress and ever-lasting infamy, and history got a hefty dose of scandal. And the American public? Well, for several weeks it got — well let’s just say like Clinton, albeit in a more negative and metaphorical way — treated to a particular intimate act.
Fast-forward 17 years and the Republicans and Democrats are stomping their feet again, both proclaiming that they just won’t play anymore, and the public is again getting the same carnal treatment. And paying for the privilege! It’s not like these whiny Congress members are digging into their own pockets to cover the cost of closing up shop and few will likely pay for the decision come election time. In fact, these elected politicians still get paid, even as staffers and average Joe and Jane Q. Worker get furloughed.
The irony is that for all the carping by talking heads, chronic Facebookers and this cranky scribe, the grand majority of us aren’t really feeling the effects. Personally, I was looking forward to more parking because the newsroom is located in the same building as Social Security. Unfortunately, unlike the Environmental Protection Agency where more than 93 percent of employees are deemed “non-essential,” Social Security is still open and space in the communal lot remains a gamble.
Postal service is also still happening, proving again that if neither snow nor sleet nor rain nor the Internet nor the rising cost of Forever stamps can kill delivery, neither can dozens of grown men and women perturbed about not getting their way.
But hold on — the shutdown is about to get real. The panda cam has gone dark.
Forget NASA and national parks. Meat inspection and passport renewals? No big deal. The real victim of this congressional bickering is the hundreds — thousands or millions, maybe? — of people who have been checking in with the National Zoo to peek at the bundle of panda cuteness born in August. How in the heck are they expected to procrastinate at work or get a momentary mood lift without a tiny, hairless creature to coo at?
Closer to home, Fleet Week festivities have been largely grounded.
Suddenly the masses who haven’t been paying attention to the fact the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are not different things let alone that it caused a government shutdown are wising up to the idea that something out of the ordinary is going on.
Sadly, though, using a government shutdown — or even just the threat of doing so — is really not so out of the ordinary. Shutdowns and filibusters are the new rage in political maneuvering. Don’t like a proposed piece of legislation? Talk until you’re blue in the face and then talk some more. Don’t like a piece of legislation that was passed? Turn your back, refuse to talk and refuse to spend money.
And unlike the grand debacle of 1995-96, this year’s version doesn’t yet appear to have any entertaining aspect worth remembering 17 years in the future. That’s even more reason to hope that unlike the Clinton-era shutdown, this nonsense quickly blows over.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: email@example.com or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org.