We are in the doggiest of the dog days of summer. Congress is currently in the sleep spindles stage of a five-week nap that the public doesn't think it deserves. Meanwhile, the political media—because TV and the Internet and even the printing presses never stop—must continue to bark and pant. So anything you hear or read—including here—must be approached with appropriate skepticism. But three stories published online over the past 24 hours show what kind of media narrative we can expect in September, once our elected officials finally wake up and swipe the drool from their slack jaws.
The Hill reports Friday morning that "House conservatives say grassroots support is building for their effort to risk a government shutdown to defund ObamaCare." Those House conservatives, specifically, are Indiana's Marlin Stutzman and Texas' Michael Burgess, who say there's been overwhelming support at town hall meetings for doing anything, even shutting down our very necessary government, to defund Obamacare (a law that, it bears reminding, is a law—lawfully passed by Congress, signed by a lawfully elected president, and being lawfully enacted as we speak).
Burgess told The Hill that the decision to exempt lawmakers and staff from Obamacare is “driving people into a froth,” adding, “I'm hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt.” Well, of course he's hearing that! These town meetings are not exactly how people with moderate opinions prefer to spend their evenings. But Burgess and Stutzman—unlike GOP representatives Tom Cole and Steve Womack, who are quoted as being opposed to a shutdown, no matter what they hear from constituents—are going to assume that a few dozen town hall attendees represent the thousands of voters who elected them.
Takeaway: House conservatives will likely return from vacation not only well rested, but emboldened to threaten a shutdown.
The New York Times reported Thursday that a "Puzzle Awaits the Capital: How to Solve 3 Fiscal Rifts," the lead sentence of which declares that only one thing is "clear" about the endgame of this showdown: "President Obama thinks Republicans cannot risk another debt crisis or government shutdown, and Republican leaders agree." The Times even goes so far as to call it a "consensus," concluding that "the odds of an economy-damaging stalemate are relatively low, despite rising jitters in the capital."
Takeaway: Republican leaders think they can prevent these emboldened, well-rested House conservatives from shutting down the government. Let's hope the House leadership has learned how to count votes since June.
Neither The Hill nor The New York Times, though, come out and say what this really means. Enter Politico. According to Mike Allen and Jim VandeHai's latest interpretation of our nation's political theater, we are on the "Eve of Destruction." "It is almost impossible to find an establishment Republican in town who’s not downright morose about the 2013 that has been and is about to be," they report. "Most dance around it in public, but they see this year as a disaster in the making, even if most elected Republicans don’t know it or admit it."
The "blown opportunities and self-inflicted wounds" include House opposition to broad immigration reform, alienating Latinos; narrowing voting laws and saying dumb things about the Trayvon Martin case, alienating blacks; and continuing to believe that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry, alienating gays.
Takeaway (via Politico, natch): "This probably doesn’t matter for 2014, because off-year elections are notoriously low-turnout affairs where older whites show up in disproportionate numbers. But elite Republican strategists and donors tell us they are increasingly worried the past nine months make 2016 look very bleak—unless elected GOP officials in Washington change course, and fast."
So. Come September, you can expect hourly reports on threats to shut down the government, the likelihood of said shutdown, and finally the imminence of said shutdown, with websites featuring running counters of the days, hours, and minutes until the first deadline, and then the second deadline, and then the third deadline. Riveting stuff! As Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland told the Times, “Even those of us quite close to it have a hard time saying how the movie ends.”
That statement is offensive to anyone who has ever made a movie. Also, we know how it ends: with a Democrat in the White House in 2017.
This post has been updated.
Ryan Kearney is the executive web editor at The New Republic.