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Debate: Was the federal government shutdown worth it?

A closure sign at the front of the

A closure sign at the front of the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. (Oct. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

After the anger subsides, what can we take from the shutdown fight? The government shutdown ended not with a bang but a whimper. Congress on Wednesday voted to end the fiscal impasse that idled about 20 percent of the federal government for more than two weeks.

Democrats and Republicans both tried to claim vindication after the House and Senate voted to fund the government through January and extend the federal debt limit until February. But public opinion polls show the Republicans bear the brunt of the blame for the past two weeks. And the GOP won no concessions.

Was it worth it? Will it matter in next year's elections? What should Americans take away from the shutdown? RedBlueAmerica columnists Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk weigh in.

MATHIS: I'm terrified.

Yes, the debt ceiling has been extended and the shutdown is over, but the last few weeks leave me more discouraged than ever about whether America is even governable anymore. And they have increased my sense that a few powerful Republicans are happy to see the broad swaths of the country endure powerful pain and suffering if that means they can somehow defeat President Barack Obama in the end.

Sound too dramatic? Then let's listen to the words of Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Republican from Virginia, as he encouraged his colleagues to breach the debt ceiling, send America into default and potentially crash the world economy, creating suffering for millions of people.

"I will remind you that this group of renegades that decided that they wanted to break from the crown in 1776 did great damage to the economy of the colonies," Griffith said. "They created the greatest nation and the best form of government, but they did damage to the economy in the short run." Again, that's terrifying. It's reminiscent of the Vietnam War-era officer who told a reporter: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." The shutdown ended before the really big damage could start, but financial services company Standard & Poor estimates it removed $24 billion from the U.S. economy. Defaulting on the debt -- as Griffith encouraged -- would've been much worse. Who's to say that he and his colleagues won't succeed in pushing the country over the edge next time? And this is why I increasingly believe the country to be ungovernable. It was never supposed to be the case that a few dozen congressmen could bring the government, and its country, thudding to a stop. We're now lurching from crisis to crisis. It's unsustainable, and there appears to be no way out. We survived last time. We survived this time. How many more cat-like lives do we have before we run out? Not many, I fear. What then? It's simply terrifying to contemplate.

BOYCHUK: Be not afraid. As far as crises go, the republic has endured far worse than the late government shutdown, which was political theater more than anything else. The economy didn't crash. Even the furloughed "nonessential" workers will receive back pay.

Conservatives, however, need to assess with clear eyes what just happened and why it should never happen again.

The hard lesson: Politics is the "art of the possible." Yes, it's a cliché, and yes, you've probably heard it more than once this week. But in a representative republic, achieving the possible requires votes. Republicans simply didn't have the numbers to accomplish what they sought to do: defund and delay Obamacare; repeal the odious medical device tax; require members of Congress and their staffs to conform to the new health insurance law's mandates; and rein in long-term spending by controlling the growth of federal debt.

True, Republicans control a majority of the House. That matters. As James Madison wrote, "The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. ... This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure." So forget the Democrats' nonsense about Republican "anarchists." It may have been a dumb play, but it was a legitimate one.

The good news: Memories are short. Anger subsides.

What's notable about the shutdown is how much didn't happen. Life continued more or less normally, with one crucial exception: Obamacare landed Oct. 1 with a gigantic thud. People are finally beginning to experience the true costs of the law, as their insurance premiums skyrocket and they lose the doctors the president promised they could keep.

This time next year, this shutdown spectacle will be a distant memory. But Obamacare will still be with us.

Now that's something to be terrified about.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis is a contributing editor to Philadelphia Magazine.


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