Mix of blame, indifference at prospect of a shutdown

By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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Some blamed President Obama. Some blamed the Republicans. Some blamed all of them. A few didn’t care. And several didn’t know anything about it.

Yesterday afternoon, as the potential government lockdown inched toward reality, the word from people enjoying a spring day in the Public Garden was a confederacy of disagreement. From general apathy — the Globe tried to speak to more than a dozen people before finding one who had an opinion on the issue — to sincere concern for the lives of government workers, just about the only thing people could agree on is that they hoped Washington would get its act together before the midnight deadline.

A tentative agreement averting the shutdown was reached late last night.

“It’s all just political posturing; it always is,’’ James Coolidge, a 53-year-old banker from Wilmington, said hours before the tentative deal was announced. “The government’s job is to spend responsibly and come to the compromises they need to, but they all want to attach their agenda to it. My feeling is that they need to address the core issue, which is to streamline a lot of expenditures.’’

Who or what was to blame for the impass seemed to fall along party lines: Liberals called it an attack on social issues, while conservatives called it an attack on excess spending. But, in general, those interviewed seemed to think both sides were culpable.

“We’ve got a two-party system, neither of which is talking to the other,’’ said Selene Hunter, a 71-year-old from Revere who was concerned that her Social Security payments could be interupted. She blamed conservatives for tying social concerns to fiscal concerns. She said she is a supporter of NPR and Planned Parenthood, both of which are under attack from the right, but said that the root problem is nonpartisan. “They’re all really short of brain cells, if you ask me,’’ she said.

John Nicolas, a 25-year-old accountant who lives in Dorchester and who also spoke before the late compromise appeared to have been reached, said that it was a question of getting a meeting of minds and that responsibility falls on the president.

“In terms of blame, I’d start with Obama, just because he’s the point of last resort,’’ Nicolas said. “If he allows it to happen, it will be pretty sad.’’

On the bridge under which the Swan Boats will soon be paddling, Donald Heller, a 61-year-old from Watertown, was busking for spare change and crying for social change.

“It’s all jousting, a little dog fight, but the big battle is that the upper 5 percent have got 50 percent of the country,’’ Heller said as he played his hurdy-gurdy, a cranked instrument that produces a violin-like sound. “The real story is that there isn’t enough money for government because the rich aren’t paying their share of taxes.’’

A few feet away, drawing a sketch of Heller as he played, was Dennis Landry, a 20-year-old student at Bunker Hill Community College. Landry thought a shutdown might be a good thing because the country is overdue for a reevaluation of its capitalist habits. “The reason we don’t have a lot of money to spend is because we import way too much,’’ he said.

Priya Ashok, 23, a Northeastern University law student, said the showdown was a lot of grandstanding that will only end up hurting ordinary people.

“I get annoyed when [members of Congress] say they won’t take a salary during a shutdown, because they don’t need that salary the way low-wage government employees need a salary,’’ she said.

Danielle Bennett, a stay-at-home mother who lives in Somerville, was strolling through the Public Garden with her 10-month-old son Lucas strapped in a carrier on her chest. She said that while she is an extreme liberal and contributed money to NPR and Planned Parenthood, she found it simply sad that the party bickering has come to this.

“It just demonstrates that our country can’t come together,’’ she said. “It’s a ridiculous form of protest.’’

Billy Baker can be reached at