Give government a rest: ignore the latest impasse

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So we are in shutdown city again. I’m not sure why media cover shutdowns the way they do. First, they make a big deal out of them. Second, they treat them as something that shouldn’t happen – a bad thing. Third, out of the first two factors, they manufacture a crisis, an urgent problem that has to be resolved quickly, before another disaster besets us. Lastly, of course, we have blame to allocate: who is responsible for this latest legislative lark, or travesty, depending on your mood?

While not a perfect way to run a country, government shutdowns have their benefits, on balance. Most of us experience mandatory or involuntary furloughs during our working careers. I’m not sure government employment ought to come with a guarantee that you will never have a furlough. If Congress in its dysfunction sees an advantage in giving government employees a break, our public servants should make the best of it.

Second, shutdowns keep us mindful of how many facilities, and how much land, the feds actually control. Occasional or frequent door closings may make us think, “Well, if feds can’t keep their promises about these services, maintain the parks, open the historical sites and museums, perhaps someone else can. Why is a national park better than a state park? Because Teddy Roosevelt managed to get that land before anyone else did? You may believe, after a few visits, that the prestigious national parks are too crowded. Now they’re not.

Shutdowns signal what currently troubles DC’s partisan war machine. Last time, in 2013, the clans feuded over health care or some such, with Ted Cruz in the van. This time it’s immigration, with Democrats fighting for Dreamers and Trump fighting for his wall.

Third, shutdowns signal what currently troubles DC’s partisan war machine. Last time, in 2013, the clans feuded over health care or some such, with Ted Cruz in the van. This time it’s immigration, with Democrats fighting for dreamers and Trump insisting on his wall. Give me the wall, and freedom to deport whoever I don’t like at the moment. Then I might give you Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. You want to renew funds for children’s health insurance, too? Good luck. These deals will not happen simply because Congress must pass a continuing resolution at the moment.

Quick note to people who name legislation: take marketing out of your names. Patriot Act. Dreamers. Affordable Care. We are cynical enough as it is. The marketing lingo just piles it on, showing us our leaders are even more cynical than we are. Each shutdown reminds us anew which issue Washington can’t resolve at the moment. Generally an issue that warrants a shutdown is fairly important, as are issues that sport a marketing tag. Marketing cynicism won’t resolve legislative process dysfunction, ever.

Lastly, oppressed citizens can spectate while both parties maneuver to win their finger pointing contest. Congressional leaders have their long standing kabuki rituals, developed over decades to replace the power they relinquished. Thankfully, they do not even pretend the play matters for anyone but themselves. They used to suggest they wanted to do well by their constituents, or their country, or the children, or the small guy, or whoever showed up in their focus groups. They always wanted to fight for someone else. Now they look out for themselves. Let the districts make do.

If feds choose shutdown as their problem of the moment, let them. We may instinctually denounce their impasses to purge our anger, but actually, fed up millions don’t need to consume their own bandwidth with tiresome theater.

At least party leaders no longer practice ‘we do it for’ cynicism. When they fight for high ground, to relegate opponents to the pit of hell because their enemies brought about a shutdown, they do not even care whether we agree with one side or the other. They care who wins, but most of us do not. They know voters would appreciate more than boredom and frustration for their investment in democratic government, but legislators seem to be happy with their strategies and maneuvers, for all the contempt it brings on their heads.

So-called leaders put their cynicism and carelessness to good use: you no longer have to persuade anyone. You just have to fight for the ground in front of you, plant your party’s standard where you can, and hold till the next elections. From decades of partisan warfare, voters know short-sightedness when they see it. Party insiders want the spoils right in front of them. Their behavior makes that plain. Moreover, you can only pay attention to one thing at a time. God wired our brains for sequential attention. If feds choose shutdown as their problem of the moment, let them. We may instinctually denounce impasses to purge our anger, but fed up millions can forego tiresome theater.


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