The Greater Evil

“The real problem is we may have gotten ourselves in a position where we can’t budge on a clean CR [continuing resolution] and they can’t budge on Obamacare,” Rep. Mike Simpson said in a Roll Call article. “I don’t think closing down the government is a good strategy for us.”[1] That may be so, and it certainly appears to be the case that the “hard-core group of about two dozen or so of the most conservative House members who stand in the way of a middle path for [Speaker John] Boehner” are an obstacle to an agreement to resume normal—if in these days in which the intellectual zombie of austerity continues to hold sway in policy making, there is such a thing as “normal”—government funding.[2]

The U.S. government shutdown conflates a number of issues. The description of that “hard-core group . . . of the most conservative House members” is fuzzy but they appear to be acting on a largely capitalist libertarian impulse. For such people, government spending and regulation should be drastically curtailed on principle and the idea of government interference in private contracts, as with health insurance, is anathema. In this context, it’s hard not to notice that the Environmental Protection Agency will be severely affected.[3]

That’s not to say that other motivations are not at work. One article, which appears not to be based on any sort of a statistically valid sample, highlights people who say they oppose “Obamacare” but then express support for what the Affordable Healthcare Act does,[4] suggesting that the Obamacare controversy draws in part on considerable animus directed toward President Obama. That animus appears greater now than with the introduction of Social Security or Medicare,[5] and Joan Walsh argues that this is about race, about the color not only of Obama’s skin, but as well that of those whom some perceive to be the principal beneficiaries of the social safety net.[6]

Whatever it is that motivates the hard-line conservative position, it is vicious. Some G.O.P. governors seem willing to cut their own noses off to spite their faces when to do so will obstruct “Obamacare.”[7] And I think that Paul Krugman gets it right when he points to “deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs.”[8]

But those who are determined to see the government shutdown in terms of good and evil, with Obama and the Democrats on the side of good, and Senator Ted Cruz and the Republicans on the side of evil,[9] should feel cold water on their faces seeing Obama calling in not just bankers, but bankers who lead institutions which many blame for the financial crisis,[10] to warn them about the shutdown. It seems this is not just about the shutdown itself, which is quite bad enough, but the possibility, should some sort of settlement not be reached, that the U.S. will default on its debts if the debt ceiling is not raised by—this date is a projection—October 17th.[11]

“At a time when both parties should be focused on job creation and policies to accelerate growth, their chronic disagreement and gridlock are actually undermining confidence, putting people out of work and hurting the economy,” [Business Roundtable president John Engler] said. . . .

Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, said the shutdown was likely to cause bigger losses for investors if it continued into next week.

But he warned that would be nothing compared to the “Pandora’s box” that would be opened if no deal on the debt ceiling was done before 17 October deadline. Congress must agree to raise the US’s $16.7tn debt ceiling by that date or risk being unable to meet its obligations.

“That would completely undermine confidence among business people,” he said. “The collective psyche will weaken – and rapidly.”

Zandi, a former economic adviser to Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, said the economy would enter a “very deep recession, very quickly, and a very dark recession.” Hiring would drop off immediately and the Federal Reserve would have no power to act, he said.[12]

Goldman Sachs CEO and Chairman Lloyd C. Blankfein, infamous for calling his role “God’s work,”[13] dutifully said after meeting Obama, “There’s precedent for a government shutdown; there is no precedent for a default.” He added that the economic recovery was “shallow.” A photograph accompanying the article shows Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan looking properly worried while Blankfein addressed the press outside the White House.[14] Where, one might ask, is the “confidence fairy” that Paul Krugman has so often and so facetiously referred to, now that we need her? In checking Krugman’s usage of that term, I noticed that he used it a lot in discussing the imposition of austerity in Europe.[15] And “the European central bank president Mario Draghi,” apparently not present for the meeting, had earlier “warned that a protracted US shutdown could impede economic recoveries around the world.”[16]

If you perhaps sense that I am about to pull out a violin, you catch my sense. I have been unemployed for over four years now. My situation is already catastrophic. I am already in a situation where I frankly don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel, where I see no hope that I will ever be employed again. My life has been destroyed by the neoliberal policies adopted in the “Washington Consensus” by both parties, that Obama refuses to abandon, that have been ever more the order of the day, since the 1970s, even as social inequality has continued to widen.[17] I realize that I am supposed to empathize with all the people who will be harmed by the effects of the government shutdown and, perhaps, by a possibly forthcoming default. But these people, along with nearly everyone else, along with the politicians, have left me to twist in the wind. There has been no empathy for me and I have none to offer them.

Instead, I have been told that Obama was the lesser of two evils, that I should acknowledge the practical difficulties of governing, that I should ignore the broken promises.[18] To be truthful, the criticism I cite has been directed at progressive bloggers who have gained more attention than I have. But in my situation, I take it personally, and I have heard it even from those whom I consider friends. And now that we see Obama’s full-bodied embrace of the national security state,[19] an embrace that has apparently led none of these critics to reconsider, I take it even more personally, for these critics—friends of mine among them—have chosen the false hope of change over the reality not only of my own situation but of what Obama has actually done.

And that, to me, is an even greater evil than the bandwagon of binary thinking about Democrats and Republicans in the argument about the government shutdown.

  1. [1]Matt Fuller, “Republican Centrists Plot Revolt to End Government Shutdown,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, October 2, 2013,
  2. [2]Paul Krugman, “How the Case for Austerity Has Crumbled,” New York Review of Books, June 6, 2013,; Paul Krugman, “The Depressed Economy Is All About Austerity,” New York Times, September 24, 2013,; Matthew O’Brien, “Who is Defending Austerity Now?” Atlantic, April 22, 2013,; Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker, “Staunch Group of Republicans Outflanks House Leaders,” New York Times, October 1, 2013,
  3. [3]Valerie Volcovici, “EPA to be hit hard in shutdown, could delay renewable fuel standard,” Planet Ark, October 1, 2013,
  4. [4]James Hamblin, “Some Americans Say They Support the Affordable Care Act but Not Obamacare,” Atlantic, October 1, 2013,
  5. [5]Allison Linn, “Obamacare fight vs. birth of Social Security: Which was uglier?” NBC News, October 1, 2013,
  6. [6]Joan Walsh, “The real story of the shutdown: 50 years of GOP race-baiting,” Salon, October 1, 2013,; Joan Walsh, “Angry right gets mad when you accuse it of race-baiting!” Salon, October 2, 2013,
  7. [7]Atul Gawande, “Obamacare and Obstructionism,” New Yorker, October 7, 2013,
  8. [8]Paul Krugman, “The Austerity Agenda,” New York Times, May 31, 2012,
  9. [9]Donna Cassata, “Ted Cruz vows to speak till he can’t against Obamacare,” Grio, September 24, 2013,; Emma Dumain and Matt Fuller, “House Leaders Seize on Ted Cruz’s Idea to End Shutdown,” Congressional Quarterly Roll Call, October 1, 2013,; Nikhil Kumar, “Not a filibuster, just a 21-hour speech: Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, rails against President Obama’s plans for US healthcare,” Independent, September 25, 2013,; Jonathan Weisman, “After 21-Hour Cruz Speech, Senate Votes to Take Up Budget,” New York Times, September 25, 2013,
  10. [10]John Arlidge, “George Soros on the Coming U.S. Class War,” Daily Beast, January 23, 2010,; William D. Cohan, “How to Crash an Economy and Escape the Scene,” Bloomberg, October 22, 2012,; Frontline, “Ted Kaufman: Wall Street Prosecutions Never Made a Priority,” Public Broadcasting System, January 22, 2013,; Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Peter Eavis, “In Deal, Bank of America Extends Retreat From Mortgages,” New York Times, January 8, 2013,; Matt Stoller, “The progressive case against Obama,” Salon, October 27, 2012,
  11. [11]Dominic Rushe, “Obama meets bank chiefs as economists warn of ‘deep and dark recession’,” Guardian, October 2, 2013,
  12. [12]Rushe, “Obama meets bank chiefs.”
  13. [13]New York Times, “Blankfein Says He’s Just Doing ‘God’s Work’,” November 9, 2009,
  14. [14]Rushe, “Obama meets bank chiefs.”
  15. [15]Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, “What Krugman & Stiglitz Can Tell Us,” review of End This Depression Now!, by Paul Krugman, and The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, New York Review of Books, September 27, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Myths of Austerity,” New York Times, July 1, 2010,; Paul Krugman, “How to Kill a Recovery,” New York Times, March 3, 2011,; Paul Krugman, “The Austerity Debacle,” New York Times, January 29, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Those Revolting Europeans,” New York Times, May 6, 2012,; Paul Krugman, “Beleaguered Europe, Back in the Spotlight,” Truthout, November 20, 2012,
  16. [16]Rushe, “Obama meets bank chiefs.”
  17. [17]Associated Press, “80 percent of U.S. adults face near-poverty, unemployment, survey finds,” CBS News, July 28, 2013,; Michael W. Clune, “What Was Neoliberalism?” Los Angeles Review of Books, February 26, 2013,; Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010); J. Craig Jenkins and Craig M. Eckert, “The Right Turn in Economic Policy: Business Elites and the New Conservative Economics,” Sociological Forum, 15, no. 2: 307-338; Paul Krugman, “How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?” New York Times, September 2, 2009,; Timothy Noah, “The United States of Inequality: Introducing the Great Divergence,” Slate, September 3, 2010,; John Quiggin, “Austerity Has Been Tested, and It Failed,” Chronicle of Higher Education< May 20, 2013,; Robert Reich, “The Tinderbox Society,” May 1, 2012,
  18. [18]Blue Texan, “Ed Rendell Tells Democratic Base to “Get Over It” on Rachel Maddow,” Firedoglake, September 23, 2010,; Blue Texan, “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010,; Michael Falcone, “Opposite Day On The Campaign Trail?” ABC News, September 21, 2010,; Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s view of liberal criticisms,” Salon, September 17, 2010,; Greg Sargent, “Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of ‘hippie punching’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2010,; Stephen Stromberg, “Joe Biden scolds progressives — and he’s right,” Washington Post, September 16, 2010,; Sam Youngman, “White House unloads anger over criticism from ‘professional left’,” Hill, August 10, 2010,
  19. [19]David Benfell, “Why you should be scared shitless,” June 11, 2013,; David Benfell, “Moral bankruptcy,” July 4, 2013,; David Benfell, “Time to leave the airport,” July 10, 2013,; David Benfell, “Big Brother wants you to be afraid,” August 19, 2013,; David Benfell, “Apparently, the U.S. needs a war,” August 30, 2013,; David Benfell, “The horse has left the barn,” September 1, 2013,; David Benfell, “Imperialism has its costs,” September 6, 2013,; David Benfell, “My Disillusionment,” September 28, 2013,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.