Field Test

We’ll unfortunately have plenty of opportunity to talk about various aspects of the impending government shutdown in the course of this last day of the 2013 fiscal year. But let’s start with a bottom-line consideration.

One of the big arguments that political scientists and political journalists argue about all the time is the relative power of party elites to talk elected officials into responsible behavior when it is necessary. This is an especially pertinent issue with respect to Republicans, among whom the dominant movement conservatives are forever denouncing said elites as “the Establishment” or as “RINOs,” despised for their practical bent or concerns about the long-term image of the GOP.

So as Paul Krugman observes, we are about to find out exactly how much clout Wall Street has in today’s GOP:

[H]ow does this end? The votes to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling are there, and always have been: every Democrat in the House would vote for the necessary measures, and so would enough Republicans. The problem is that G.O.P. leaders, fearing the wrath of the radicals, haven’t been willing to allow such votes. What would change their minds?

Ironically, considering who got us into our economic mess, the most plausible answer is that Wall Street will come to the rescue — that the big money will tell Republican leaders that they have to put an end to the nonsense.

But what if even the plutocrats lack the power to rein in the radicals? In that case, Mr. Obama will either let default happen or find some way of defying the blackmailers, trading a financial crisis for a constitutional crisis.

The appropriations issues we’re hearing about today are quite possibly just an appetizer for the debt limit fight just ahead. But it would be wise for Wall Street to send some signal to the congressional GOP right now, instead of letting conservatives get themselves all worked up into a delusional frenzy about their ultimate victory over Big Government. We’ll soon see if the one-time Masters of the Universe are smart enough or powerful enough to do that.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.