Skip to main content

Ho-hum reaction to shutdown says it all

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
October 4, 2013 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
HIDE CAPTION
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
14 ways the shutdown affects you
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: It's alarming the shutdown is seen as a nonevent and par for the course
  • No mass demonstrations, he says, and even financial professionals aren't panicked
  • Rothkopf: This is a depressing sign of decline: Our government is dysfunctional
  • He's says it's really a severe governance crisis showing we need system-wide reform

Editor's note: David Rothkopf writes regularly for CNN.com. He is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- It speaks volumes that America's government could be shut down with its leaders blaming one another for bringing the country to the edge of the economic abyss, and the response of much of the world, including the leading financial markets, would essentially be a yawn.

The most stunning thing about this first shutdown of the U.S. government in almost two decades is the degree to which it is a nonevent, considered par for the course given the sad state of affairs in the nation's capital. Voters may be angry. They may be depressed. But there are no mass demonstrations. Congress' approval rating may have hit new lows, but beyond that, the response has been a shrug.

Here in Washington, traffic is still lousy. Lobbyists still schmooze over restaurant breakfast tables. People shake their heads in disgust. But no one even bothers to feign surprise.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

Speaking with institutional investors, I was struck to hear that they, too, consider this episode to be not much different from the histrionics of an unhappy child. Even financial professionals, whose world and well-being would be rocked by the cataclysm that would be triggered by America's failure to pay its debts, have not reacted with panic. (Today, during and after House Speaker John Boehner'sdefiant press conference, which seemed to presage a drawn-out crisis, the Dow Jones Industrial Average barely budged, remaining slightly positive throughout.)

When financial professionals are asked why they remain calm, they say that someone will blink because someone always blinks. And they say if nobody blinks, perhaps a brief market spike downward would serve as a wake-up call to reason.

But more important, nearly all those with whom I spoke believe the United States won't default even if the debt ceiling isn't lifted because there are ways the president can keep the checks going out -- such as simply paying the debt out of available cash and holding back on other payments not tied to the "full faith and credit of the U.S. government."

The result is that rather than action, this pathetic standoff has produced a lot of media sound and fury signifying, just as Shakespeare once observed, nothing.

Parents angry over Head Start shutdown
Shutdown won't impact storm response
Schiff: Let's reopen the government

Interested observers are understandably depressed, legitimately concerned that we have lost our mojo as a country, that this is a sign of decline, based on the fact that at this moment in U.S. history, our government just doesn't work.

Although this is primarily the fault of the GOP and notably and undeniably a tiny fraction of crackpots within the party who are throwing a public tantrum because they didn't get their way on health care reform, it is equally undeniable that both parties have contributed to the pitiful state of a democratic system that was once a shining example to the world.

Both parties are responsible for the gerrymandering that has produced a modern political reality in which the vast majority of members of Congress are in safe districts and never feel pressure from opposing views.

They have no reason ever to compromise and, indeed, are penalized for doing so because their future depends on primary wins, and they see those who vote in primaries -- the most extreme members of the party faithful -- as the group to whom they must answer.

Both parties have engineered and failed to challenge the corrupt campaign finance system that gives check writers power over law writers and undercuts the most basic principles of equity in democracy.

Both parties have contributed to the shrillness of the debate. Both parties have used antiquated Senate rules to block progress by their opponents and the confirmation of nominees of presidents they oppose. And both have done these things for so long now that these flaws in our system are seen as enduring and impermeable to change.

In the end, this is not a problem of a government shutdown or even of the impending breach of the debt ceiling, certainly not about the nonsense spewing from obstructionist tea party clowns who claim it is about defending "individual liberties."

It is also not as simple as refusing to negotiate with political hostage takers as the president suggests, although he is absolutely right to resist their crude techniques.

Rather, it is a governance crisis of the first order, one in which the solution can only be massive system-wide reform. It's a crisis that shows itself not just in the petty squabbles of elites, nor in the lack of a serious discussion about addressing the real problems confronting the country, but is best illustrated by the cynicism and relative indifference of the electorate.

They are not protesting, not voting out the bastards. Rather, most disturbingly, they are saying, "We don't believe you any more and we are starting not to care."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT