The Morality Of Shutting Down The Government To Pass Legislation

Forget The Dems, The GOP, & The Wall. What’s The Morality Of A Shutdown By Any Party For Any Issue?

Jan 10 · 9 min read

By David Grace (

Let’s pretend that the current government shutdown doesn’t exist. Instead, let’s pretend that the following alternate history is what has happened.

An Alternate History — The Dems Try To Pass A DACA Bill

The Democrats took control of the House, and to satisfy their base they immediately passed a bill enacting President Obama’s DACA policies into law.

The legislation went to the Senate where it was defeated it on a straight party-line vote.

The Democrats launched a publicity campaign explaining that the current immigration law was unfair, how many terrific people it was going to send back to countries they had never known, and how America was going to lose doctors, teachers, small business owners and other valuable residents if the Democrats new DACA bill was not passed.

Their campaign included tearful interviews with undocumented college students, nurses and other productive members of society.

The Senate Republicans were unmoved.

The House Democrats then announced that they were going to vote against the pending appropriations bill unless the Senate passed the Democrat’s DACA legislation.

The Dems Shutdown The Gov’t In DACA Dispute

The Senate refused to reconsider the proposed DACA bill, and the House Democrats voted down the appropriations bill. Without funding, portions of the government were forced to close.

The Blame Game

The Republicans blamed the shutdown on the Democrats.

The Democrats said that they were willing to negotiate a compromise on their DACA legislation, but the Republicans flatly refused to consider any version of the DACA bill, saying that the whole idea of allowing people who entered the country illegally to stay here was fundamentally wrong.

The Democrats blamed the shutdown on the Republicans because the GOP refused to consider any compromise whatsoever on the very necessary, moral and important DACA proposal.

The Republican base strongly supported the Republican Senators.

The Democrat base strongly supported the House Democrats.

Are They Both To Blame?

Many members of the public blamed both sides, saying that they should just do their jobs instead of stubbornly digging in on partisan positions which were causing great harm to the country and to innocent citizens.

Many said that politics was all about compromise and that the Senate Republicans should negotiate in good faith and come up with some kind of a DACA-Law compromise that would end the standoff.

Are both sides to blame or is one side clearly right and one clearly wrong, and if so, which one is right and which one is wrong?

The Democrats Are Totally In The Wrong

My answer: The Republicans are absolutely right and the Democrats are absolutely wrong.


Our System Is Based On Free Elections & Majority Rule

This is a representative democracy where the elected candidates are supposed to enact legislation in conformance with the desires of their constituents.

If the people elect more Republican Senators than Democrat Senators then the Republican Senators get to pass or defeat legislation which they feel is in line with the wishes of the voters in their states. The same applies to the House Democrats and the people who elected them.

How Compromise Affects Legislation

To avoid gridlock, it is common that the parties will trade votes. The Republicans may want Law A and not Law B while the Democrats want Law B and not Law A. They negotiate and the Republicans vote for a compromise version of Law B and the Democrats vote for a compromise version of Law A.

Or maybe both Law A and Law B are defeated and instead both sides pass a negotiated version of Law C.

If The Parties Cannot Agree, The Voters Decide Who Is Right

And if the Republicans are really outraged that Law A was defeated in the House, then at the next election they are free to go to the voters who elected those no-voting House Democrats and argue that those Democrats should not be re-elected because they voted against Law A or because they voted in favor of Law B.

The Democrats are free to do the same with regard to the Senate Republicans who voted for Law A and against Law B.

And you know what? The voters will decide who is right.

Our system’s basic principle is that if one party thinks that some legislation is absolutely needed and the other party refuses to vote for it, then the loser’s recourse is to go to the voters and ask them to kick out the party that blocked their pet bill.

If a majority of the voters like Law A and dislike Law B then they will kick out enough Democrats and elect enough Republicans so that the next Congress will pass Law A and continue to defeat Law B.

The fundamental rule in this country is that if a party doesn’t get its way, its recourse is to win more elections. If it does win them, then it deserves to get its way. If it doesn’t then it doesn’t.

In this example, if the Democrats’ arguments about DACA being wonderful and necessary are correct then their recourse is to get more Democrat Senators elected. If they do that then they’ll be entitled to pass their DACA bill.

If the voters don’t elect more Democrat Senators then the Democrats don’t deserve to get the DACA bill enacted into law no matter how important they may think it is.

If you want to pass a law, you either trade enough votes to get it or you win more elections or you don’t deserve to get it at all.

That’s how our system is supposed to work.

The Dems Don’t Deserve To Pass DACA

But here the Democrats did none of those things.

They didn’t win enough Senate elections to get their bill passed, and they weren’t able to give the Republicans enough other stuff to get voluntary GOP votes for the DACA bill, so that should have been the end of it until the next election gives the voters a chance to weigh in on the issue.

The Bank Robber Scenario

But no, the Dems resorted to a tactic straight out of the bank-robber’s play book.

A man walks into a bank, pulls out a gun and says, “I need money to pay for my wife’s heart surgery. I want a million dollars and immunity from prosecution or I’ll blow all your heads off.”

Do you negotiate with him? Do you compromise on $250,000 and immunity or maybe $500,000 and he serves one year in jail?

Of course not.

The gunman is threatening to harm innocent people unless he gets something he’s not entitled to.

That’s a terrorist tactic (“Release these ten guys from prison or I’ll blow up the building”) and you don’t negotiate with terrorists.

In our DACA example, it’s irrelevant how important the Democrats think their DACA law is, how necessary they think it is, how moral and right they think it is, just as it’s irrelevant how badly the bank robber needs the stolen money.

The Democrats didn’t win enough Senate elections to have enough votes to pass the DACA bill which means that they are flat out are not entitled to have their DACA bill become law.

When the Democrats say, “We’ll close down the government until the Senate Republicans vote for our DACA law” they are doing the same thing as the bank robber.

They are putting a gun to the country’s head and threatening to pull the trigger unless Senate Republicans give them votes that the Dems are not entitled to.

Both the bank robber and the Democrats are saying: “Give me something you have that I want that I’m not entitled to have or I will hurt innocent people.”

The bank robber has no right to extort the bank’s money.

The Democrats have no right to extort the Republican Senators’ votes.

It’s blackmail. It’s extortion. It’s a terrorist tactic.

You Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists

You don’t negotiate with hostage takers. You don’t compromise and give them half of what they demand.

Hostage-taking isn’t like some kind of a voluntary business deal where both sides compromise in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

It’s extortion, using the threat of harm to innocent people in order to get someone to give you something of theirs that you’re not entitled to have.

You don’t negotiate with or reward people who threaten innocent third parties in order to get your stuff .

Negotiating With Hostage-Takers Creates More Hostage Taking

If you give hostage takers what they want then you encourage other people like them to do it again and again and again.

If hostage taking gets people what they want then it will become an accepted tactic people will use to get your stuff that they aren’t entitled to have, whether it’s your money or the release of prisoners or votes that the hostage-taker did not win enough elections to earn.

Negotiating with extortionists, kidnappers, and terrorists just leads to more blackmail, kidnappings and terrorism because it teaches people that extortion works.

Hostage Taking Has Become An Accepted Washington Tactic To Get The Other Side’s Votes

The principle that rewarding political hostage takers will lead to more political hostage taking has been proven true by what we have seen happen in Washington.

Prior to 1980 there were no government shutdowns — — — — — — — — 0

In 1980, there was a one-day shutdown — — — — — — — — — — — — — -1

In 1981 there was another one-day shutdown — — — — — — — — — — — 1

In 1984 there was a shutdown that lasted one afternoon -— — — — — —½

In 1986 there was a shutdown that lasted a single afternoon -— — — — -½

In 1990 there was a one-weekend shutdown — — — — — — — — — — — 2

In November 1995 there was a five day shutdown— — — — — — — — — 5

From mid-December 1995 through

early January 1996 there was a 21-day shutdown — — — — — — —- —21

In October 2013 there was a 16-day shutdown -— — — — — — — —- — 16

In January 2013 there was a three-day shutdown — — -— — — — -— —3

Now, in late 2018 and into 2019 we are

in the midst of a 20-day shutdown which is still ongoing — — — — — — 20+

The Bottom Line

So, here’s my point:

If the Democrats want DACA then they have to win more Senate elections.

If the Republicans want the Wall then they have win more House elections.

Holding the country hostage in order to coerce the other party to give you their votes for some law you want and that they don’t is extortion. It’s coercing them to get them to give you their votes against their will in order to prevent harm to a third party.

It’s a terrorist tactic, and for very good reasons you don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Our Representatives and Senators shouldn’t be using bank-robber tactics to extort votes they didn’t earn at the ballot box and therefore don’t deserve.

If the Democrats want a DACA law then they either have to give the Republicans enough other stuff to get the Republicans’ voluntary votes OR they have to win more Senate elections.

If the Republicans want a Wall, then they either have to give the Democrats enough other stuff to get the Democrats’ voluntary votes OR they have to win more House elections.

It’s Flat-Out Wrong To Use Extortion As A Tool Of Government

Your subjective belief in the importance of the law you want to have passed is as totally and completely irrelevant as the reason why the bank robber needs the money.

No matter what the bank robber is going to do with the extorted money, what he’s doing is still wrong.

Holding the country hostage in order to extort votes you weren’t able to win at the ballot box is flat-out wrong no matter which party does it and no matter how important you think the law you want to pass is.

— David Grace (

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Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 17 novels and over 200 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.

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