Welcome to the new America, the country we get when people who don’t like or understand government attempt to govern. The shutdown was embarrassing, destructive, unnecessary, and dangerous, but it did shed some light on our government’s real priorities. As they were forced to decide between “essential” and “non-essential”, we got a glimpse of the reality of the new America… not what we wish it was, not what we’re told it is, but the essential reality of what our country has become…
What stayed open, and what closed? What defines our country, and what’s just window dressing? The best resource I found was an interactive list from CNN Politics of 110 different agencies established by We the People, and how they were faring in the shutdown. The “closed” list included many groups that made the news like national parks, NASA, and museums, but look more closely. You’ll find departments like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, National Council on Disability, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. OSHA Review Commission? It was closed. Federal Election Commission? Closed. Office of Government Ethics? In perhaps the sweetest irony of all, it was closed too. Even the US Court system, although it had money to function for 10 days, was on the “non-essential” list. Basically anything designed to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, or secure the blessings of liberty was considered a luxury.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Constitution, so you probably noticed the gaping hole in the familiar list above… “provide for the common defense”. In the new America, this seems to be the only remaining “essential” governmental function. In a spectacular example of “defense” priorities, our Big Brother at the NSA continued just fine although the committee to oversee him was shut down. To prepare for the shutdown President Obama signed the “Pay Our Military Act”, guaranteeing our various oil wars will continue unchecked. I certainly support paying our frontline soldiers, but it’s a loophole that Defense Secretary Hagel quickly used to bring back about 350,000 civilian DOD workers from furlough. It was apparently vital to have soldiers killing and dying, but not to take care of them or their families. Emergency payments to families of military personnel killed in action were deemed non-essential, although they were picked up by a private group temporarily and were eventually handled by the government again. Soldiers who were only wounded can breathe a sigh of relief… if the shutdown had continued then 3.8 million vets would have missed disability payments, and over 500,000 vets and spouses would have had their pensions stopped.
So what were the demonstrated values of our nation? Our government proved that it didn’t care about providing for the sick and poor or for the veterans and their families who already sacrificed for us. We didn’t value education or justice, our history, or our natural beauty… they were all non-essential. We valued domestic surveillance and international empire. We valued the Big Brother police state. While we might value the labor of our people, we didn’t value it enough to pay them for it. Although we loudly and publicly praise everything that could make a country great, when it came down to the crunch we actually supported everything that makes a country detestable. I don’t think that’s where we came from as a people. I don’t think it’s what any rational person would want for our future, but the meanest, smallest, most terrified people among us made it our reality.
On the bright side (if there is one), the shutdown did reinforce one of our most cherished beliefs. A major point of the Constitution is to protect the rights of the minority. In the shutdown, we protected those rights so much that as Obama correctly pointed out, “One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government” shut the whole thing down. Lincoln said “the Constitution is not a suicide pact”, but our adherence to Constitutional principles in the face of a minority hijacking the Constitution to deprive the majority of their rights almost proved him wrong. A bitter bright side, indeed.
Take Care and Make a Great Day!