Monday, October 7, 2013

The "partial" government shutdown

Has anyone else noticed this?  The government shutdown is no longer a shutdown, but a "partial shutdown," at least according to certain major media outlets.  I first saw the term on some TV network, CNN maybe, and didn't think much of it.  But now the shutdown is being described as "partial" on the front page of the NYT, and earlier I saw the phrase in the Star Tribune too.

I guess it's not literally inaccurate.  The government has not ceased to exist.  Certainly many people are still working in government positions, though they're largely not getting paid for it.  So, yeah, in that sense, I suppose the shutdown might be understood as not complete, and therefore partial?

But still.  The current situation is very much what people mean and envision when they talk about a "government shutdown."  Moreover, it's basically what happened in previous shutdowns.  Talking about it as if it's partial implies that the government could somehow shut even further down, something that wouldn't have any real precedent or relation to previous standoffs.

And what makes the NYT's choice to adopt this particular usage at this particular moment especially questionable is that a major GOP talking point throughout the crisis has been that the government isn't really closed.  Instead, its faithful say, Obama has been selectively, vindictively closing down the most-loved and most visible federal institutions--national parks, the WWII memorial, Amber Alerts--in an effort to punish Republican intransigence.  The wild implausibility of this theory aside, it's been embraced by the right, with Fox News talking about a government "slimdown" and propagating a number of increasingly unhinged stories about Obama's willingness to selectively fund various (sometimes fictional) government bodies.  The theory is also feeding into a vague sense among conservatives that an unending government shutdown would be a great way to make de facto cuts to government services, because anything that was truly important, Obama would just leave open.

In that light, the NYT's new language doesn't look quite so much like a stab at accuracy as a sop to the right.  It avoids the reality that the government really is in almost every sense shut down, and enables conservatives to cling to their loony pet theory unchallenged by facts.

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