Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Shutdown

When the shutdown of the Federal Government began on Tuesday, it was an amusement to me. There they go again was my foremost thought, and the whole affair struck me as somewhat silly. But then it actually started to interfere with my work. My economics students had a small assignment due Friday about economic indicators, and many of the websites from the Commerce and Labor departments were shut down, preventing them from easily getting answers to questions. Teachable moment, I guess. But then I tried to search for political cartoons for my politics class and I found it pretty hard to find cartoons about the War Powers Resolution of 1973 without being able to use the Library of Congress and the National Archives.

Though obnoxious, these obstacles didn't make my job impossible. I think of the people whose jobs aren't available as a result, including one relative and a handful of friends. What for me is obnoxious must for them be maddening. And then I think of the custodians, data processors, and entry-level folks who get their income streams and jobs interrupted . . . I'm sympathetic.

As I've followed the news this week it seems as if the media has come down pretty decisively against the Republicans, or at least the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party. The consensus around blaming them is probably for good reason. Even some of the conservative writers I've followed acknowledge that forcing a shut down of the government was tactically stupid. What they (Gerson, Douthat, Krauthammer, and Magliocca) offer is worth reading. Ross Douthat would probably take issue with me branding him conservative . . . I regularly find his point of view and thoughtfulness refreshing.

As a teacher, I've had cause to clarify this event for my kids, especially since many were asking me what was going on since the shut down served as a dog-at-my-homework moment. Uncle Sam is still issuing a lot of checks, I have to clarify, for the shutdown hasn't affected Social Security, Medicare, and SNAP. Nor has it furloughed members of the Armed Forces (thought the PX stores on which those servicemen rely to make costs reasonable aren't working).

So, we have a government shutdown but the three biggest drivers of the deficit (Social Security, Medicare, and Defense) keep on keepin' on. That's a teachable moment.

It's been a teachable moment for this writer who harbors conservative instincts still. Some of the lessons I'm learning:

  • I'll divide my blame 60% Republicans and 40% Democrats for this episode. 
  • This episode is definitely regrettable. 
  • I'm incensed at how the costs of this shutdown are being felt most acutely by some unintended elements of the population. The friends (and relative) I have working for the government are middle class young parents who work hard, save wisely, contribute to their communities, and try their hardest to be good moms and dads. In the short run I guess their kids benefit from a little more one-on-time with mom and/or dad (by the way, to those parents, enjoy as best as you can this interruption with them . . . at least it's a silver lining to a gray cloud), but in the grander scheme, government has told them that their work and talents don't matter and aren't wanted, at least for a few days. What's worse, to be told one's job is non-essential or that it's essential but we don't know when we'll pay you? Either way, what a dumb message to send. Meanwhile . . .
  • checks to other constituencies keep rolling. I'm talking Medicare and Social Security. Obviously we can't stop those checks from rolling (to not do so would be cruel). But perhaps that's the point. The President and both parties in Congress knew that a shutdown wouldn't and couldn't go that far. So why not shut things down? It's only the young and working folks who'll get pinched. (My apologies, that might have been too acidic of a comment). 
  • I'm reminded of how public goods are good. No free access to No easy access to or No access to the Smithsonian? I'm glad to pay taxes to keep those things open. Wait a minute, I'm paying taxes to keep them open, but they're not open. 
  • And if the public goods I care about are this meaningful to me, what about services to those who really struggle paycheck to paycheck. I heard last night that Head Start is a nonessential government service. 

So, Washington, I'm learning. What was at first a snicker grew into annoyance and is now maturing into the philosophical.

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