THE BLOG
10/13/2013 06:26 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2013

Just Sorting Things Out

The government shutdown serves no discernible purpose beyond setting a very dangerous stage for competing political interests to try to advance their agendas and, of course, giving the news media and political commentators an urgent issue to cover and interpret.

Yet it's a fascinating time to be a student of political communication. During these epic battles, we get to analyze rhetorical weapons while they're still being fired. We get to take a close look at who's saying what and how what they're saying is evolving. We get to consider which statements demonstrate clever strategy and agile messaging and which are clumsy or obtuse. And we can take note of message opportunities completely missed. It's like a military historian getting to observe Yorktown, or Gettysburg or the Battle of the Bulge while the bullets were still flying.

As approaching deadlines raise the heat, the sheer volume of political messages -- in both quantity and loudness -- grows daily. But like jalapeño peppers in a pot of chili, simply adding more ain't always better.

You almost need a program to identify all the players. We have House Republicans versus the White House, and House Republicans versus Senate Democrats. It's the House Democrats versus Senate Republicans; and House Republicans versus House Democrats. It's some House Republicans versus Senate Republicans. It's a few Senate Republicans versus other Senate Republicans and all the Senate Democrats. And it's the White House versus a few Senate Republicans, but pretty much leaving the rest of the Senate Republicans alone. And it's a few Senate Democrats wishing they were somewhere else. Then you have corporate financial and business interests sending messages to House and Senate Republicans, and getting messages from the White House. You have conservative ideological interests sending messages to House Republicans and a few Republican Senators.

Got all that?

In a free-for-all like this, it's tough to decide who's winning the message battle. About the best you can do is check to see how the messaging might have changed since the fight broke out, and, in view of the changing ground and changing poll numbers, it pretty clearly has.

The White House is now a bit more open to discussions with Republicans over some elements of Obamacare. The argument is over when discussions occur.

House Republicans have backed way off earlier demands that the White House defund, then delay, then delay parts of, then modify Obamacare.

More 'Old Guard' Senate Republicans want the whole thing over. They're looking at public opinion, which blames Republicans in Congress more than Democrats for the stalemate. They're afraid the fight only hurts their chances for a majority in both Houses of Congress anytime in the foreseeable future.

The Republicans' financial and big business supporters are telling their political friends that threatening the full faith and credit of the United States is bad for business.

At the same time, the ideological folks are yelling, "Take No Prisoners!" They want House Republicans to continue the stand-off. Some are unconvinced that refusing to raise the debt limit will have any effect on the country's credit rating.

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas seems pretty convinced he's winning the battle.

Missed message opportunities? Might have been nice for some authoritative, credible source to translate all the Hill babble -- CRs; conferencing; Regular Order -- into English and explain to the public what exactly is going on here.

And the White House missed a big one. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should have explained publicly how in the world all the Healthcare.gov computer screw-ups happened, what's being done to fix them and who she's holding accountable. If this was done while the media's attention is still primarily focused on the government shut down and debt limit fight, it would receive some news coverage and minimal comment. It wouldn't be looming as yet another contentious issue as soon as this one's over.

The only element in the war of words on which there is universal agreement is that every single elected official, former elected official or would-be elected official in Washington, DC -- from President Obama to Senate Republican Leader McConnell and Democratic Leader Reid, to Speaker Boehner, House Democratic Leader Pelosi and my personal hero, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who represents citizens from another planet in the U.S. House -- all these folks are able to tell us, the American people, with absolute certainty what it is that we, the American people, want.

It all kind of makes you proud, doesn't it?

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