The Strategy of a Shutdown, Pt. 1

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you’d be familiar with my love of classical military strategy. I am particularly fond of the Art of War and all works that are directly inspired by it. One such work is “Mastering the Art of War,” which I’ve sourced before and will be going to again for this post.

One thing about the shutdown is the fact that Democrats were so sure it would swing in their favor, but now there is a popularity shift – not a major one, but noticeable. Polling shows that only a slight majority blames the Republican party for the shutdown, yet the Democrats are acting as though the entire country is feeling the burn and is angry with the GOP over it.

A lot of GOP strategists and consultants, however, think this is a bad move for the GOP and they urge the party to reconcile and just end the shutdown. However, this is a terrible idea. Ben Howe said it best on Twitter.


This is true now because the Democrats have overplayed their hand and, in thinking the dismal approval ratings for Congress only applied to the Republicans, let the government shut down, and began making it hurt in the most noticeable (albeit stupid) ways. This strategy, or perhaps lack thereof, brings us to this passage. Keep in mind that throughout the work, the terms “generals” and “leaders” are used, but can be interchangeable.

There are five skills and and four desires involved in generalship.

The five skills are: skill in knowing the disposition and power of enemies, skill in knowing the ways to advance and withdraw, skill in knowing how empty or full countries are, skill in knowing nature’s timing and human affairs, and skill in knowing the features of terrain.

The four desires are: desire for the extraordinary and unexpected in strategy, desire for thoroughness in security, desire for calm among the masses, and desire for unity of hearts and minds.

To know the disposition and power of their enemies, in this case the conservatives (note: I did not say the GOP), the Democrats would have to look back to 2010 and realize what got the fresh crop – the Cruz’s and Lee’s that now reside there – to Washington in the first place. Instead, they focus on the 2012 presidential loss as the indicator of where the country’s feelings on the matter of governmental affairs lay. As has been discussed here multiple times, it was a weak candidate in Mitt Romney that led to an entirely unmotivated populace. Conservatives, having been talked down to and told they race could be won without them, stayed home. The Democrats have not picked up on that or choose not to. Either way, they lack this first skill. They did not take into account the power and motivation of the opposition to liberal rule they have imposed on the country.

The skill in knowing the ways to advance and withdraw have always been a problem for the Democrats, and again we need not look any further than 2010 to see that. They advanced on the grounds that they had a mandate to pass the Affordable Care Act and overextended themselves. The result was a major change in the face of Congress. There was a lot more Red. Still, though, they pushed on, won 2012, and against overextended themselves. They pushed ahead into the dangerous territory of a government shutdown and are shocked that the results were not exactly what they hoped for. The CNN/OCR poll on who gets the blame shows a “slight” advantage to the Republicans in that regard, but there is a lot of blame going toward the Democrats AND Obama.

The skill in knowing how empty of full a country is… this refers to the Democrats knowing where to attack. In warfare, you avoid the “full” and attack the “empty,” meaning you go where the enemy isn’t to capture the land. The Democrats have no been attacking wisely, though this isn’t entirely their fault so much as it is a simple lack of awareness on their part. They can close down open air monuments and barricade or cone off sites, but we live in a digital age, and there is almost nowhere we can’t reach with social media and the like. So, the “enemy” of the Democrats can move quickly to counteract, as we’ve seen with the rallying behind veterans who wish to see their own World War II monument, the quick response to Chad Henderson’s lies and Harry Reid’s anti-cancer children statements.

The last two skills, “nature’s timing and human affairs” and “knowing the features of the terrain” are in a sense one in the same in this regard – the battleground is public opinion. It is where human affairs and the terrain intersect, and as a result, it requires a lot of information. This information – staying in tune with public opinion with more than skewed polls and actual interaction with constituents – is vital to the politician. Without it, there is no way they can win a political battle, and the Democrats have fallen into that trap in this regard. They ignore the trends of public opinion and instead focus on winning a battle that they were never guaranteed to win in the first place. They relied on the previous GOP actions to enter this battle, thinking that past performance was an indication that they would quickly cave again. They were wrong.

Now, that is not to say the warning signs for us aren’t there: the Democrats are in no way out of the fight, and the Republicans are constantly looking for a way to cave. It is the threat from conservatives to take away the Republicans’ power that keeps them in check… which is exactly how representation should be, right?

In the next installment of this series, I promise I’ll get to the four desires of generalship. But we’re almost at 1000 words now. So, let’s take a break.