I am a sci-fi movie junkie, and one of my all-time favorites is the Mad Max series. These tales are of a post-apocalyptic Australia where scavengers battle to the death on ruined highways over who controls the world’s last few drops of gasoline. Great stuff, if you find the end of the world compelling narrative. (For me, this was inevitable, since I grew up as a Cold War kid near Bethlehem Steel, which had multiple Soviet warheads targeted on it for decades.)
In the last Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome, the story takes place in this quasi-city called Bartertown, which has developed its own form of sustainable energy in the form of methane distilled from pig droppings in a vast, squalid underground farm. The guy who runs the operation is a dwarf named Master, who rides piggyback on a developmentally challenged giant named Blaster. The conflict is that Auntie Entity, the mayor of Bartertown, doesn’t like that Master Blaster routinely shut down energy production if they don’t get what they want. And so Auntie Entity hires our hero to kill Master Blaster and solve the power struggle. Things go downhill from there, as you might imagine.
Every time I read about the impending federal shutdown, which is scheduled for tomorrow but might be forestalled by an emergency spending bill, I think of Bartertown. What we have here are two parties whose interests are as entrenched as they are opposed. Both had good and bad ideas. Neither has shown a heck of a lot of interest in dealing meaningfully with the other. In the end, it does not look likely that there will be a shutdown, or if there is, it will be a short one before somebody blinks and a deal is made.
The funny thing is that the most immediate budget concerns are cuts in the $20 billion range that compared to the larger budget, are small potatoes. And yet, there are larger philosophical issues over society and the extent of governance attached to these expenditures that lead to political contests outsized to the amount of money being discussed. This way lies gridlock.