Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM & FM, Friday, Apr. 1, 2011.
Fans of the movie The Godfather will remember the phrase “go to the mattresses.” The expression is said to originate from the Mafia. It means to go secure an apartment and bring in a bunch of mattresses for one’s soldiers to sleep upon during a protracted war against a rival faction or gang.
The expression turned up in the movies a second time in You’ve Got Mail when Tom Hanks, offering business advice to Meg Ryan via an instant message exchange, advised her to “go to the mattresses” in her battle with a larger, stronger competitor. (As it turned out, that larger, stronger competitor was Tom Hanks himself.)
Going to the mattresses means that whether you want war or don’t want war, it is nevertheless war. The line has been drawn and the matter will only be decided after a fight.
So it is, I believe, with respect to the looming deadline for funding the government beyond the expiration of the current spending resolution a week from today (April 8). It’s time for the Republicans to go to the mattresses.
Drawing a line and saying, “no more” likely means that the government will “shut down” for a while. I put the words “shut down” in quotes because the government doesn’t really shut down. The military continues to operate as normal. The IRS still processes payments (although they don’t process refunds).
The mail still gets delivered and the air traffic controllers still go to work and the federal prisons are still guarded.
Yellowstone National Park, however, is closed. So is the Air & Space Museum. No Capitol tours for your Boy Scout troop. No processing of your passport application.
Until the Congress authorizes the funds, these government operations and many like them will, in fact, shut down and the employees will not report to work. (But if an impasse actually comes, when it is finally resolved, it is virtually certain that the affected federal employees will receive full pay for the days they didn’t work.)
When the government is so big that “shutting it down” doesn’t result in actually shutting it down; when the deficit is over one and a half trillion dollars and congressional Republicans can’t get Democrats to agree to even a $60 billion spending reduction (a paltry two percent); when the debt attendant to funding such deficits rises by $4 trillion in two years and now equals the entire value of all goods and services produced by the American economy in a year; it’s time to go to the mattresses.
But some Republicans, despite the unmistakable message sent by voters in November 2010, are squeamish. They remember 1995 when then House Speaker Newt Gingrich squared off against President Bill Clinton in a somewhat similar showdown over a spending resolution.
In that kerfuffle, Clinton successfully pinned the blame for shutting down the government on the Republicans. Some Republicans have never gotten over it.
But this type of inside-the-Beltway calculus is of another age. From today’s pespective, 1995 was a thousand years ago.
In 1995, the legacy media dominated the flow of information and Republicans had no effective voice in making their case. Sixteen years later, there is Fox News and talk radio and websites like National Review and American Thinker. There is Facebook and Twitter.
The big three network newscasts and the New York Times, still potent, are nonetheless no longer the oligopolies that they were.
If the Republicans will only have the fortitude to make their case for saying enough is enough, their story will get a hearing and a government shutdown won’t be pinned on them as a bad thing. Instead, Republicans will be rewarded for actually acting on the unmistakable message that the voters sent in November.
If the Democrats want a fight, Republicans should give them one.
Shut the government down and trust the American people to figure out why it happened.
It’s time to go to the mattresses.