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A Pox on all their Houses: The Saga of the Government Shutdown

Civility and Civic Virtue give way to Trash Talking

We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore.

How many times have we heard or thought about our frustration with the Congress in its relationship with President Obama these past few years? Too many times and the recent stalemate over the government shutdown has added fuel to the fire of disgust we all feel about our dysfunctional government. As far as I am concerned, there is enough blame to go around for all participants in the embarrassing mess.

It is clear from the various polls that a significant majority of the public blame all parties for the mess and their approval ratings have sunk to new lows. An Associated Press poll taken on October 8 had the approval rating for Congress down to five percent (I’d like to meet that 5%). The approval rating for President Obama was down to 37 percent.

What’s up with the Republicans? Don’t they know they lost the election in 2012? Do they think their current stalling behavior in funding the government is good for them? Regardless of how you feel about Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), it is the law of the land and the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate last year. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Sunday that there are not enough votes in the House of Representative to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government without a provision defunding or delaying Obamacare. The Republic effort to hold hostage the continued funding of the government is a disingenuous act by Congressmen and women who act like children because they didn’t get their way.

The Democrats are to blame as well for ramping up the rhetoric and adding as measure of incivility by trash talking about the Republican position. This does nothing to further the cause of funding the government and doing the people’s business. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has called the House’s tea party Republicans “legislative arsonists.”  Representative George Miller (R-CA) accused Republicans of waging “jihad against Americans’ access to healthcare.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) described Republicans as an “anarchy gang” engaged in “anarchist tirades.”

The President for his part seems way too aloof during the mess to be the leader of our nation. Leaders become involved in crises and don’t use their bully pulpit to degrade the opposition. He has been too disengaged unlike his predecessors who have dealt with each other directly during similar crises including Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

Where have all the statesmen and stateswomen gone. Where is the common sense leadership that can end this manufactured crisis? Our country is so polarized that nothing gets done anymore and everything gets kicked down the road. The current talk about passing a short-term continuing resolution illustrates the problem. If passed, you can bet the same thing will happen when it runs out.

The Republicans say Obamacare should be delayed one year because of all the unforeseen consequences and that its roll-out has been fraught with problems implementing the new law. This misses the point that the same problems will occur one year from now because of the incompetency built into most government systems not to mention the eventual fraud that will have to be dealt with, as with Medicare.

As in most manufactured crises, the innocent get punished. Whether it is furloughed government workers, parks and national monuments that have been closed to the public, delayed death benefit payments to families of our fallen troops, or the failure to provide needed life-saving medical care, the government shutdown has harmed many lives and caused much pain and agony to Americans. What’s worse, the selective exemptions for different groups have led to picking winners and losers and smacks of unfairness.

In case you have not been watching, the stock market is down about three percent just in the last ten days. This has caused loses of billions of dollars in 401-K’s and IRA’s. Perhaps the losses will be recovered after Congress and the President find a way to work together, but the point is our government has been making decisions that negatively affect us in many ways. Rather than staying out of our way, the government has blocked it at all turns.  

I believe the saga over the government shutdown illustrates how selfishness and myopia have ruled the day rather than civic virtue and a healthy respect for public service that virtually all of our elected leaders lack today.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 10, 2013