Anatomy of an Echo Chamber: How the Democrats' Shutdown Loss Became a "Win"

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Anatomy of an Echo Chamber: How the Democrats' Shutdown Loss Became a "Win"

Late last week, Democrats forced a government shutdown because an agreement could not be reached to protect Dreamers. Three days later, however—much to the bewilderment of their base—Senate Democrats announced that the government would be reopening. The details of that agreement prompted immediate outrage from the party base, who accused their party leadership of selling out. That’s because, while the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would be funded for six years, the only progress made on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was a promise by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote in the near future. A promise that, to judge by McConnell’s entire tenure, is basically worthless.

And yet an exonerating narrative began to emerge.

According to the country’s most recognizable Democratic partisans, Senate Democrats had taken CHIP “off the table,” thus guaranteeing health insurance for millions of children nationwide. On top of that major accomplishment, they’d gotten a commitment from the Senate Republicans, meaning the ball was effectively out of their court on immigration. Within hours of one another, Scott Dworkin, founder of the Democratic Coalition, MSNBC’s Joy Reid and Lawrence O’Donnell, Vox’s Ezra Klein, New Republic‘s Jeet Heer, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, and Shareblue’s Eric Boehlert set to work to revive the long dead ‘political chess’ narrative of the Obama years. Reid went so far as to call it a “bold fold”—a coinage that is deeply embarrassing.

Like a well-oiled machine, this ragtag group of respected influencers amplified one another on social media. Klein even appeared on “The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.”

But there was just one problem: the narrative was nonsense. For one thing, as House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) was quick to point out, the Senate deal did not necessarily have the backing of the House. More importantly, Senate Republicans had already offered the six-year CHIP extension ahead of the shutdown, meaning the Democrats really got nothing from their capitulation—a plot hole that did not go unnoticed.

Even Vox pointed this inconvenient reality out in a piece by Sarah Kliff that one can only assume Klein did not personally edit. Kliff noted CHIP’s historic popularity across party lines. Well, given the multiple times Republicans tried to secure the program’s extension, apparently it still retains that popularity. The simple fact is that most Americans blamed the GOP for the shutdown, meaning CHIP’s expiration was a serious liability heading into 2018.

Of course, this all begs the question: what did Democrats really achieve with the shutdown? They revealed themselves to be weak-willed in their commitment to Dreamers, they surrendered leverage that could have been used to secure a DACA agreement with House support, or to fight for a vote to overturn the FCC’s recent net neutrality decision, or to make progress on any number of other initiatives. What’s left, besides utter political failure? If the last 48 hours are any indication, the answer is hot air, desperately spewed by an unconvincing echo chamber.

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