Government Shutdown Theater: Making Cuts That Will Cause the Maximum Pain for Dramatic Effect

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
By Paul Martin

Lily Dane
Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In 1969, the Nixon Administration cut the National Park Service budget. In response, George Hartzog, the NPS director at the time, closed all of the national parks for two days a week. The closures included prominent landmarks like the Washington Monument. Democrats and Republicans criticized Hartzog’s decision – but it was the flood of citizen complaints that led Congress to reverse its decision and restore funding (and fire Hartzog).

And thus, the term “Washington Monument Syndrome” was coined. This is an old political game that is also known as the “Mount Rushmore Syndrome” and the “firemen first principle.” The tactic involves making cuts to high-profile programs that will get the public’s attention – and tick them off enough to push them to support tax increases they would otherwise oppose.

Here’s how it works: When the government is threatened with reductions in spending, they’ll make cuts (or threaten to) in programs and services that are important to the people. It is a manipulation tactic that is designed to inflict pain, discomfort, and fear.

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