Some of my friends heard of the federal government shutdown only today. I have to admit, I was initially surprised to discover this, but then I remembered what different interests and perspectives people have. I have a natural interest in big economic events, so I knew of the shutdown plans a month in advance. But there are thousands of others, who tune into political strategy in a way that I can’t imagine, who knew all about the shutdown plans as long ago as December, when the idea was first formed into an organized plan at a series of conservative meetings. It was planned, they tell me, complete with a sequence of actions and many of the talking points we are now reading on Twitter and seeing on the news. That story you keep hearing about the park police going too far in enforcing the national park closings? A strategist wrote that story in detail ten months ago. I would have no idea except that there are people who follow such things, and they were there and taking notes. On the other side of things, there are millions of people who will never find out that the government shut down. They may not even hear of the economic depression that follows if the debt ceiling stays where it is and the spending bills continue to die in the House.
All of this is fair enough. We need to have different people keeping track of different things. I tweeted over the weekend about the possibility of tracking flu outbreaks on Twitter, since the CDC is out of action for the current flu season. Some people thought the suggestion was a joke — and that reminded me how relatively few people understand what kind of information makes it possible to track an infectious disease. I am not an epidemiologist, but just the knowledge that is possible to track trends in certain ways means something.
Yesterday John Boehner said the shutdown can be expected to continue indefinitely, and the debt ceiling probably could not be raised either, as the House Republican caucus remains unable to come to an agreement on any action. We will, of course, collectively survive both the lack of a spending bill and the absence of any borrowing ability, but this will involve a picture the world has never seen before of a government dismantling itself. Even this could be a manageable process, but other things will happen in the world at the same time, and that is what makes the situation so interesting and unpredictable. But as long as different people continue to keep track of different things, I think we will know what to do.