A matter of priorities

Beyond its politics and dizzying array of Washington terms ("clean CR," "sequestration levels"), the current government shutdown has had real-life consequences for thousands upon thousands of Americans.

Workers have been furloughed. Paychecks have stopped or been cut in half. Small businesses catering to government workers have lost money. Children have been removed from Head Start programs. Scientists aren't getting government grants.

Indeed, the recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that nearly a third of Americans -- 31 percent -- say people in their families have been affected by the shutdown, up from 18 percent who said this during the previous shutdown in 1995-96. (This reporter is among those affected, because his spouse works for the federal government.)

“We’ve both been laid off, not being paid," said one respondent from Virginia. "I’m a federal employee, my husband is a contractor for the federal government."

"My son owns a camp park, and because you’ve shut down all the forest lands ... [customers] have cancelled their reservations," said another from Utah.

"I work for a university and some of the funding for the university comes from federal grants, and so the normal route for funding to apply for grants is no longer possible as long as National Institutes of Health is shut down," said a third from California. "I was about to submit a grant but that grant can’t be submitted."

Given these shutdown stories, it was striking on Sunday that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin held a protest to ... re-open the World War II Memorial.

"You look around and see these barricades, and you have to ask yourself, 'Is this any way that a commander-in-chief would show his respect, his gratitude to our military?'" Palin asked.

"Why is the federal government spending money to erect barricades to keep people out of this memorial?" Cruz added.

To be sure, House Republicans have passed piecemeal legislation to re-open the federal parks, to fund Head Start, to finance the Food and Drug Administration. But Democrats, who’ve blocked those mini-bills in the Senate, counter that these measures still keep most of the government closed. (They also point out the contradiction of Republicans shutting down the government -- over the president's health-care law -- but then complaining about what's closed.)

But Sunday's Cruz-Lee-Palin event raises the question: Why are Tea Party conservatives more concerned about re-opening the World War II Memorial -- rather than ensuring furloughed workers return to the job? Or helping small businesses dependent on federal workers and national parks? Or restarting federal grants to scientists?

(Part of that may be because Republicans don’t have nearly as many federal workers in their districts as Democrats do.)

In the 2012 election, voters -- by a 53 percent-to-43 percent margin -- said President Barack Obama was more in touch with people like them than Republican Mitt Romney was, according to exit polls.

What's more, a combined 75 percent said Obama's policies generally favored the poor and middle class, versus just 36 percent who said that about Romney.

Numbers like that forced the Republican National Committee, back in March, to say it needed to do a better job speaking to ordinary Americans' concerns and problems.

"Our ideas can sound distant and removed from people’s lives," the RNC's "Growth & Opportunity" report said. "Instead of connecting with voters’ concerns, we too often sound like bookkeepers. We need to do a better job connecting people to our policies."

But did Sunday's event do that, especially among those who already aren't part of the party's base? Or did it make the party sound even more "distant and removed"?