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devil duck

Symmetry in politics

There have been a lot of efforts by Republicans to blame Democrats for the shutdown because "they're not willing to negotiate; they're not willing to compromise." If they would just meet us halfway, goes the reasoning, we would all get along better.

When you plant a bomb in the Statue of Liberty and threaten to blow it up unless you're paid $100,000,000, you don't "negotiate" and say you'd be willing to accept half of the money, you'll disable the bomb, everybody will shake hands and go home smiling. What actually happens is that you get none of the money, and you get locked up. Because when the law is on one side and you're on the other, you lose.

The Democrats' non-negotiable demand is that a law that was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, and debated heavily in an election in which Democrats kept the White House and gained seats in both houses of Congress, go into effect on schedule.

The Republicans' non-negotiable demand is that a law that [see above] be repealed because a few dozen members of one party in one house of Congress really, really don't like it, and because when you do a public-opinion poll about "Obamacare", people unclear on what it is don't like it.

These are both non-negotiable demands, but they're not symmetrical: one of them is to obey the law, and one is to repeal the law despite the lack of political support for repealing it.

Another interesting asymmetry: One Republican, John Boehner, could end this in an hour by allowing a vote on a clean C.R. There is no one person in the Democratic side who could end it -- not even Obama.

Why won't Boehner do that? Because the Tea Partiers would try to get him kicked out as Speaker. But what if a large number of House Democrats promised to vote for him (since they have no reasonable hope of electing a Democratic Speaker anyway)? Suddenly his position would be secure, and he would come out as Speaker of the House, rather than Speaker of the Republicans in the House. Boehner would still get primaried from the right next summer, but being perceived as actually getting things done might allow him to win that primary.