If it seems there is little movement between ideologies on the American political scene, it is likely due to the fact that both of our major parties can't seem to get out of their own way. The axiom governing political strategy these days is best described as "For every governing error, there must be an equal and opposite governing error." This explains why both Republicans and Democrats are losing the battle of the shutdown.
While hyper-partisan Republicans still argue otherwise, the events leading up to last week's impasse were a public relations disaster. If you listened to the speeches and other assorted talking points being lobbed by the GOP's key players, it appeared that the battle was not with Democrats but with each other. Ted Cruz was on a mission to establish himself as the king of most pure conservatives, at the expense of every other Republican who ever helped to build the party.
House Republicans were scurrying for high ground. Many of them publicly and privately willing to throw John Boehner under the bus while simultaneously praying he could hold both uber conservatives and more centrist/moderate Republicans in line.
With the standoff clearly under way, it became clear that Cruz -- who proudly goaded his House colleagues into the mess - had no game plan to either win votes in the Senate or help GOP House members into a fallback position with their base.
Even during the non-negotiations to not end the shutdown, Republicans still were publicly looking for a hand to play. Rep Marlin Stutzman of Indiana told the Washington Examiner, "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."
Were the story to stop there, it would be fairly easy to blame Republicans alone for the shutdown, and have a reasonable expectation to assume they would be punished in the upcoming mid-term elections. Democrats, however, are not content to sit idly by and watch their opposition commit unforced errors. They are now piling on at an alarming rate that gives members of the GOP some hope.
The shutdown began with "essential" park service employees erecting barricades around the World War II Memorial. Park Service officials were well aware of the number of WWII veterans that make trips to the memorial, known as Honor Flights, on an almost daily basis. Despite the fact that the memorial is open air, constantly exposed to the weather, and has no official entrance or gates, the Park Service spent money to try and find a way to close it. Clearly, this administration needed some optics to demonstrate hardship because of what the Democrats are referring to as "The GOP Shutdown." It was noted by some members of the press that the World War I memorial nearby received no such treatment.
The result was predictable to anyone who isn't suffering from beltway shutdown delusional logic. The WWII vets moved the barricades and visited the memorial as scheduled. And in the process, it is starting to become clear that the Administration is spending federal employees' time and the American people's tax dollars to make this shutdown as painful as possible.
Over the weekend, the Parks Service placed orange cones along the roadway in near Mount Rushmore to keep families on vacation from pulling over to look at the monument. Some 1,100 square miles of ocean has been closed to charter fishing. The ocean, closed, because of lack of appropriations? That's the official word.
A privately operated inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina attempted to defy federal orders to close, but relented after two hours. The operator was told he would lose his lease on federal property if he continued operations. It's currently the peak of fall tourist season there.
Perhaps the peak of pettiness occurred Sunday. The Armed Forces Network was not allowed to broadcast NFL games to troops stationed overseas. This while troops have been guaranteed pay, and while the Pentagon is preparing to call back 300,000 workers due to a measure passed to insulate soldiers and their mission from the shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made it clear that it's all about politics. Asked by CNN's Dana Bash why the Senate was refusing to pass or even consider CR's for branches of government not affected by Affordable Care Act Funding -- specifically to fund the National Institute of Health to help "even one child with cancer" -- Reid responded "Why would we want to do that?"
Reid later made it clear that he loves children and hates cancer, so the meaning of his remark is obvious. This is all a show. With an estimated 83 percent of government operations continuing during this "shutdown," what the administration has chosen to determine as "essential" versus what additional effort is being expended to create the appearance of a shutdown is creating new optics. Ones that aren't good for Democrats.
Added to the problem is the troubled rollout of the health care exchange websites and you have a picture of a government that willfully punishes its citizens when it is denied what it wants, but has trouble delivering on the ever increasing promises that it makes.
If ever there was an opportunity for Republicans to illustrate the problems with big government, the Democrats reaction to their initial overreach has given them one. The question remains: Can Republicans seize it, or will they again overreach in response?
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.