Most assuredly if you are a government employee and you now find yourself out of work with an unknown future this shutdown is certainly a big deal. If your livelihood depends on certain government programs, this shutdown is certainly a big deal. No question about it, folks will hurt. But… isn’t that the whole idea of a governmental shutdown? With all the press focusing on the misery of Americans who are directly affected by the shutdown I think as Americans we might fail to see that sometimes this IS a process of democracy. I mean, it’s a great concept that we can vote for our representatives in government to make decisions for us but these people are also.. human (believe it or not), and as such they are also subject to occasional lock ups in the lawmaking process. We put them in office to negotiate, compromise, and hopefully use some common sense in running the country. The fact is… we vote for the representatives that we feel will best represent OUR individual interests, and our interests are not necessarily the interests of the folks two states over from us. What you might call “common sense” I might call “sheer idiocy”. So am I suggesting that the cause of the shutdown is our own fault as Americans?
Well… perhaps our own fault indirectly in that the process of democracy is a process of compromise and if compromise stalls things can happen that aren’t so good. When the many times unpredictable political mood of the country shifts one way or another (the preverbal pendulum) indecision and frustration with our lawmakers.. and the President, can reach a crescendo. Right now the political mood in Congress between the two parties is pretty raw following the starting of Obamacare and sour grapes over Obama’s re-election. This has caused a stalemate on other important issues
regarding the continued funding of the government and subsequent debt ceiling issue in the future… all on top of trying to balance a huge budget deficit. Who breaks the stalemate? Look in the mirror. As Americans are we going to be pissed enough to raise hell with the folks we elected to represent our interests to get on with a compromise so that government services and employment can get back to normal? Whoa. Does that mean we, as Americans, are willing to compromise our views on whether Obamacare is good or bad for the country in order to return to the status quo? Interesting. I’m told Obamacare sucks (even though it’s the law of the land). Does that mean if I loose my paycheck for a while to get rid of it (which won’t happen anytime soon because even THAT process takes time), I’ll be better off?
All in all, this is democracy in action and strangely enough we should be proud of our system, albeit, it can be frustrating. It’s the continued price we pay for our freedoms. Yeah.. all that pride doesn’t mean a lot right now when you’re the one laid off and can’t make the mortgage payment. But that’s the whole point. It’s up to the public to break the stalemate in Congress and the Executive branch.
But there might be a couple redeeming lessons to learn for the future here.
More than ever we Americans are tied to nearly every aspect of government spending. Federal programs reach nearly all of us in some form or another, directly or indirectly, and the government is the largest employer in the nation. We have an active military in various (non)war zones as we try and defend our interests and also fulfill our moral responsibility as the world’s policeman. Our overall economy in general requires direct government regulation involvement in order to grow.
Let’s add to that another aspect. As I am watching the news segments where an average unemployed government worker is being interviewed, they are all bemoaning that they don’t know how they are going to make the next mortgage payment or pay the month’s bills. That tells me the maybe the average wage earner in this country has no savings account… no financial buffer for so-called rainy days… is working from paycheck to paycheck. Seems to me therein rests maybe a greater problem in this country. Why are we existing from paycheck to paycheck when, on paper, our respective incomes (especially working for the government), appears adequate? Perhaps too much credit? A faltering economy? Inflation? Social awareness? Take your pick.
It’s been 17 years since the last shutdown and for most of us that memory has long faded. Also, in those 17 years since, our economy has changed, earnings have changed, and more government programs have been added. In the end, the next time we find ourselves on the precipice of another shutdown we might try and remember the shutdown of 2013 because most assuredly… it will be worse.
Just a few postscripts on the current arguments…
- It’s a common critical argument that in order to get Congress back to negotiating an end to the shutdown is to stop their pay as well, as motivation and incentive. While it’s a popular thought given the frustration of the moment it’s likely not a good idea. To begin with it takes two sides to be active in compromise. This means, currently, the Republicans and the Democrats (being led by the executive leader of the democratic party residing in the White House). So to be fair the Prez would have to sacrifice something as well to also get him motivated.. which is not likely to happen because as President he gets anything he wants to live, and has no mortgage payment. Also… congressional salaries include amounts to support their office staffs and if their office staffs are gone then your phone calls, emails, letters, and cries for help would go unread and unheeded (um.. more that usual).
- Obamacare is the law of that land. Certainly no one disputes that much. It may end up being the worst thing since the Great Depression or it could end up being the best thing since sliced bread. The point is, no one really has a firm grasp until we get a couple years into it to gauge its effect on the economy. At any time along the way Congress can introduce changes and modifications… or even repeal the whole thing if there’s overwhelming support. It seems needless, and a useless waste of time and energy to address Obamacare now given there are so many other more important issues clamoring for attention. Using the Obamacare law as some sort of hostage regarding the current shutdown makes no sense at all. Certainly using the argument about it to put people out of work as some sort of social inducement seems a bit extreme, to say the least.
- It’s been great press and a huge wonderful photo op for congressional representatives showing members of the so-called Greatest Generation war veterans, hobbling with their canes and walkers… being pushed in their wheelchairs… moving past those barriers at the D.C. war memorials in defiance of the shutdown, as if it were some final assault at Normandy. This image is to somehow illustrate the apparent cold and impersonal government imposing its will on those that defeated fascism and imperialism. Ok… let’s get real now. It was just an element of bad timing that the shutdown was at the same time as a planned get-together of about 90 Mississippi World War II vets at the WWII memorial. These vets were flown to D.C. on one of those well-deserved Honor Flights. There are likely more veterans from other states planning a visit as well because it’s cooler climate for them to travel. Now… reality is, veterans visit these memorials all the time, each day, just as does the regular public who wish to pay homage to those who fought for our freedoms. Although, even I have an issue with the
National Park Service needing to close off open-air public monuments in general. While I can understand the reasoning to some measure (staff being available for visitor safety concerns, guidance, and monitoring the sites to prevent vandalism), public city parks or monuments of your average city (under the auspices of “parks & recreation”) never close down. But be that as it may, these Mississippi World War II vets, like all vets of that era (or any era), did indeed fight to defend our democracy and what comes with that includes political temporary shutdowns as part of the process I’ve already outlined. These fellows were simply victims of what I call the “Wally World” effect (in the movie, Vacation, with Chevy Chase; his family travels from Chicago to the West Coast in a wild adventure to visit Wally World… and it was closed for two weeks for repairs; something any traveler might be feeling during this shutdown). Yes.. no question, tough luck for those vets who were all likely on some timetable and can’t afford to wait around for Congress to open up shop again to visit their memorial before heading home. On the other hand.. a call to a local Mississippi congressman to provide some influence with the National Park Service (which stuff like that is always done to assist constituents who travel to D.C.) to let a small veterans group in might have worked also. On the other hand, if I were heading a group like that and I arrived on the scene and the fences were up… I’d simply go around them with no fanfare (who’s going to stop us when there’s no staff… and it’s a bunch of wheel chairs?) What I object to is using these veterans for political gain and the press for sensationalizing it all in trying to make some shutdown headlines. [As I complete this post the National Park Service has “found” some money to pay for a few security guards to man the memorials without an act of Congress; my point exactly.]
Another plus to our democracy (which is really a republic)… in a couple years…
we can throw the bums out!