Government in Crisis, in Context

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Protesters demonstrate in front of the Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 6, 2011 urging for government spending cut. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images/Getty)

As Tea Party Republicans insist that Obamacare be defunded or delayed, government has ground to a halt. What do we make of this moment in historical context? Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and the author of Governing America: The Revival of Political History (Princeton University Press, 2012) discusses the history of shutdowns, inter-party schisms, and other moments of crisis.

Reading List: Putting the Shutdown Crisis in Context


Julian Zelizer

Comments [30]

It is a curious thing that the so-called Democratic Party slanders, dismisses and abuses any segment of the people which opposes their tyrannical rule. So much for their claim of supporting rule by the people!

It is especially disheartening when a caller prefaces their remarks with a note of how extreme the Democratic rhetoric is and then agrees with it.

Need I say it?

1. No one is being held hostage. There is no ransom note. There is no demand for money for the safe release of any person.

2. The budget is not a person. The budget is not even a Constitutional part of the legislative process. In fact, I would argue that it is at the root of the problem and should not be safely released. And, because it is not a person, its demise should not be mourned.

3. The Democrats are not being extorted. There are no dead horses in Harry Reid's bed. The Democrats are not even being forced to do anything by actions outside the legislative process, as they so wildly claim. The decision whether to pass an appropriations bill IS part of the legislative process. I would argue that the right NOT to pass an appropriations bill for a particular purpose is the MOST important of the legislative process. Without that right, Congress does not have the power of the purse, just a rubber-stamp funding for past laws from past Congresses. The Democrats have been making a mockery of the power of the purse through this long ordeal.

4. The more radical members of the Tea Party are not terrorists. They are not trying to make us afraid, which is more than I can say for the Democrats. Rather, they are revolutionaries, and of a more mild kind than George Washington and company. Jefferson, as I recall, expressed the "shut 'er down" concept in more graphic terms.

Oct. 16 2013 10:55 PM

Why this obsession with the budget? It is NOT in the Constitution. Read what is there instead, in Article I, Section 9, Clause 7. Or, better yet, just read my book on "The Way Out" of this nonsense. Just click on the Amazon icon at . Go ahead... I dare you!

Oct. 16 2013 10:04 PM

That such a partisan hack teaches history at a respected University speaks poorly for education in this country.

Oct. 08 2013 03:58 PM

Partisan rhetoric under the guise of "history" - lame.

Oct. 08 2013 03:50 PM
Donald J. Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

How a bunch of terrorists, who are threatening to destroy the American government if they don't get their way, have the gall to wave the flag is beyond me. I can only assume they are doing it in a mocking way.

Oct. 08 2013 01:14 PM

< "...urging for government spending cut. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images/Getty)" >

Appreciate the photographer, Getty and WNYC's effort in putting words in the mouth of her/his subject -- but I hardly think Tinkerbell, there, would agree with Jewel Samad's characterization that that he is advocating for!

He wanted the government shut down, he got it, and now he's smiling.

Why the reframe?

Oct. 08 2013 11:47 AM

Ed you sound like an absolute lunatic. Why you think you're personal religious beliefs should have any bearing on our government speaks volumes about the right wing in this country. They don't care about democracy -- they want it their way or they'll run this great country into the ground. Sickening.

Oct. 08 2013 11:26 AM
Ed from Larchmont

On the surface it might not seem to be about abortion, just as there were other issues in the Civil War. But, to me, I don't think God is going to allow our country to take another giant step toward abortion. At least, every time we do, there is a disaster. So it seems to me the underlying, but not necessarily the surface issue, since o-care is indeed the biggest entrenchment of abortion since Roe, since now it's paid for by tax payer funds, and is a required part of healthcare.

Oct. 08 2013 11:22 AM

@Sheldon from Brooklyn

"Time to have constitution amendments: Term limits on Senators and Reps. Take away the power of congress to draw their own districts."

You couldn't be more wrong. The output from a constitutional constitution WILL NEVER get 3/4 of states to vote for it so why hold it. TERM LIMITS are unneeded and a BAD IDEA. It absolves the electorate from staying engaged. Lastly, Congress DOES NOT draw its own districts. State governments do.

Oct. 08 2013 11:18 AM


"This is a coup that has been developing over the past..."

EXACTLY!! The GOP and their donors have been draining the Treasury (nat'l debt +3X under Reagan and +2X during Bush II) and the upper quintile is taking the lion share of the gains in GDP such that AVERAGE wage has 20% the buying power that the MINIMUM wage did 50 years ago. That is one hell of a slide.

How did we put up with the average slice growing that much slower than the whole pie? By being divided over distractions. Racial and sexual integration in the workplace; abortion issues; WARS - necessary and unneeded; Terry Schiavo's brain - or lack thereof; and on and on and on...

The PEOPLE need to articulate what they think is important and get behind politicians who REPRESENT THEM.

Oct. 08 2013 11:13 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

This is a constitutional crisis.

The governors of ALL 50 states, who represent the taxpayers of America, should have a emergency meeting about this.

Congress has been operating with defacto - unchecked power for too long and it is threatening our union.

Time to have constitution amendments: Term limits on Senators and Reps. Take away the power of congress to draw their own districts.

Oct. 08 2013 11:04 AM


There are other stations on the dial if you do not like Brian's show. Bet you can't listen to WABC or WOR for more than 15 minutes before you wretch from the amount of stoopid you will hear.

Oct. 08 2013 11:01 AM

I am terrified. This is a coup that has been developing over the past years since Reagan, to destroy our government. The constant mantra, government is evil, steals your money, has no reason to exist as community, etc. The current situation is culminating by the total power of money to corrupt and break democratic procedures by those who want no regulations and total control of the mechanisms of government to further their greedy interests. Right now, President Obama is the kindle that lights the fire, it is so evident they want him to destruct as president, to prevent anything of benefit to come out of his presidency, the ACA, no development of green technologies, keeping job development to a miniumum.
The convergence of evil is showing its face in Ryan, Norquist, the Koch Brothers, the Willimsburg meeting, the group that met at the beginning of the first term of President Obama. And the Americans suffering now are those who have no voice and are losing the most. Wake up, Media, wherever you are, and get to the source.

Oct. 08 2013 10:59 AM
Barbara from Queens

It's hard to believe that supreme court justices are not taken out for dinner once in a while.

Oct. 08 2013 10:58 AM


Oh really...Where in the Constitution does it say the House has a line item veto for budget items which it no longer approves? The GOP has shown that their respect for the Constitution ends when they finish reading it out loud during the first day of a new session.

They are grabbing for power plain and simple. You would not put up with it if it were the Executive trying to do it.

Oct. 08 2013 10:57 AM
fuva from harlemworld

The invalidity of this political maneuver seems obvious to me. If O concedes to it, we will have embarked upon the slippery slope to "banana republic" high-stakes, zero-sum-game, dysfunctional politics.

Oct. 08 2013 10:46 AM
steve from upper west side

So far we've heard strong words like EXTORTION and HOSTAGE TAKING to describe what the Republicans and specifically the Tea Party are doing. And I think they are all accurate, but there's one word I've not heard that I think is most apt -- TREASON.

Oct. 08 2013 10:43 AM
RUCB_Alum from Central New Jersey

Sorry, folks, what the House is doing is tacking on an extra-constitutional 'second vote'. IF we lose on the floor, we'll just grab the government and close it until we get our way. It's equivalent to a child holding their breath until they gets their way.

The Constitution requires that an act becomes law when a majority in both chambers vote for it AND the President signs. ObamaCare won and the GOP does not have the seats to repeal it. Even if they had a majority, would they have the seats to override the presidential veto. C'mon...

What the GOP is doing is collective punishment and collective punishment is a war crime. The fact that some of us are arguing that this is the proper role for the House ("they hold the purse strings") is absurd.

Rather than a government of laws, we become a government of spoiled brats with the power to block things.

Oct. 08 2013 10:41 AM
Tyrone from Brooklyn

Ask your guest if it there is an historical precedent for the President to single handedly create exemptions in a law that was passed, after the fact. Doesn't pass the smell test for me.

Oct. 08 2013 10:41 AM
Eileen Burnash from Bernardsville, NJ

Didn't the Earmarks Ban from the Tea Party faction eliminate the ability of Congress to negotiate? There's nothing to negotiate with anymore.

Oct. 08 2013 10:41 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Yes, this Republican political maneuver is unprecedented in US history. Thanks to the guest for clarifying, but I knew this. Why didn't George Stephanopoulos? Journalists and the media have really dropped the ball when interviewing these hypocrites.

Meanwhile, the comparison to the Civil War is apt. Remember, most of these CONservatives defected to the Republicans in the 60s, out of anger over Civil Rights. This country's original sin just might undo it...

Oct. 08 2013 10:38 AM
John A

How about the US-DoJ initiating legal action against congress for acting extra-constitutionarily?

Oct. 08 2013 10:37 AM
Ken from Brooklyn

I don't believe it is extortion for the Republicans to simply ask the the government and some of the Presidents cronies live by the system they created and pass a budget that gives the President everything he wants and is far above what they would otherwise like! That is all that is required here, no special exemptions.

Oct. 08 2013 10:36 AM
John A

Ed, the issue is Not Abortion here, and you're a fool if the republicans have led you to believe that it is.

Oct. 08 2013 10:30 AM
Tamara from Manhattan

This guy is a Princeton professor? How does something that is a major budget item and represents 1/6th of the entire economy have nothing to do with the budget?! Something that will add trillions in long term debt has nothing to do with budgeting?!

Also, the government takes in 10x more than it needs per month to pay off its creditors, there is no reason for a default unless the President does not allow treasury to prioritize spending.

Oct. 08 2013 10:28 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It seems to me the parallel is the time before the Civil War, but the issue here is abortion instead of slavery, since the o-care act has the U.S. Treasury paying for abortions.

Oct. 08 2013 10:24 AM

Bull Moose Party 2016!

Oct. 08 2013 10:24 AM
antonio from baySide

Wouldn't the spectrum stay the same?
In congress there's the tea-party (Which media portrays as a big block of them), the blue-dogs and moderate republicans (which are the same essentially) and a handful of true liberals.. Rush Holt, Elizabeth Warren, Jerrod Brown, Bernie Sanders...

Lets face it, to become a star in the democratic party you have to be a moderate (in the triangulation style of Bill Clinton...i.e. President Obama );

Oct. 08 2013 10:10 AM

Fiscal Cliff Put in Perspective
Lesson # 1:

U.S. Tax Revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
Federal Budget: $3,820,000,000,000
New Debt: $1,650,000,000,000
National Debt: $14,271,000,000,000
Recent Budget cuts: 38,500,000,000
Let’s now remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budge:

Annual family income: $21,700
Money the family spent: $38,200
New debt on the credit card: $16,500
Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
Total budget cuts so far: $38.50
Got it?…. OK now…

Lesson # 2

Here’s another way of looking at the Debt Ceiling:

Let’s say you come home from work and find there has been a sewer backup in your neighborhood… and your home has sewage all the way up to your ceilings. What do you think you should do?

Raise the ceiling or remove the crap?

Oct. 08 2013 10:05 AM
carl from queens

They fiddle while Rome burns.

Oct. 08 2013 10:03 AM

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