Way back in January, when it emerged that Beyoncé had treated us to the first ever lip-synched national anthem at a presidential inauguration, I suggested in this space that this strange pseudo-performance embodied the decay of America’s political institutions from the real thing into mere simulacrum. But that applies to government “crises,” too — such as the Obamacare “rollout,” the debt “ceiling,” and the federal “shutdown,” to name only the three current railroad tracks to which the virtuous damsel of Big Government has been simultaneously tied by evil mustache-twirling Republicans.
This week’s “shutdown” of government, for example, suffers (at least for those of us curious to see it reduced to Somali levels) from the awkward fact that the overwhelming majority of the government is not shut down at all. Indeed, much of it cannot be shut down. Which is the real problem facing America. “Mandatory spending” (Social Security, Medicare, et al.) is authorized in perpetuity — or, at any rate, until total societal collapse. If you throw in the interest payments on the debt, that means two-thirds of the federal budget is beyond the control of Congress’s so-called federal budget process. That’s why you’re reading government “shutdown” stories about the PandaCam at the Washington Zoo and the First Lady’s ghost-Tweeters being furloughed.
In a heartening sign that the American spirit is not entirely dead, at least among a small percentage of nonagenarians, a visiting party of veterans pushed through the barricades and went to honor their fallen comrades, mordantly noting for reporters that, after all, when they’d shown up on the beach at Normandy it too had not been officially open.
Government by “continuing resolution” is a sleazy racket: The legislative branch is supposed to legislate. Instead, they’re presented with a yea-or-nay vote on a single all-or-nothing multi-trillion-dollar band-aid stitched together behind closed doors to hold the federal leviathan together while it belches its way through to the next budget cycle. As Professor Angelo Codevilla of Boston University put it, “This turns democracy into a choice between tyranny and anarchy.” It’s certainly a perversion of responsible government: Congress has less say over specific federal expenditures than the citizens of my New Hampshire backwater do at Town Meeting over the budget for a new fence at the town dump. Pace Senator Reid, Republican proposals to allocate spending through targeted, mere multi-billion-dollar appropriations are not only not “irresponsible” but, in fact, a vast improvement over the “continuing resolution”: To modify Lord Acton, power corrupts, but continuing power corrupts continually.