Friday, October 18, 2013

Guest Post: Thoughts on the Government Shutdown



Born in Cheyenne and blown from his crib westward to California, David has lived on both coasts, in the middle and in Uruguay/Paraguay on his mission. He currently works in international development in Washington D.C. focusing on agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean. He is twice married with 7 children and ten grandchildren located on both coasts and three continents. His youngest recently returned from a mission in the Philippines dodging mostly successfully (big) spiders in the shower. He and his wife, Mary-Anne, have traveled to 46 countries (Italy ranks #1). An ardent Giants fan, he loves watching the Dodgers lose. Yes, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth were the best who ever played the game. If he had just kept all his baseball cards.

In view of the government shutdown perhaps it would be useful to reflect once again on the view of the Founding Fathers for some context. Last year MMM posted my thoughts on the then upcoming national election discussing the independent voter. In it, I referenced George Washington's quote from his Farewell Address in which he said of political parties, "They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force — to put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of a party; often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community..." Sadly, we see once again how party politics is tearing at the very fabric of our government and our society. Both parties say they are driven by principal however as one evaluates the behavior (not just the statements) we see that it is far too often that power and politics are defining positions and strategies. The media does not help when it constantly seeks to find a winner or a loser. Or one who "blinks" first implying weakness rather than a resolve to find a solution to the impasse.

We also see the reality of what one Hill staffer told me last year just before the election. I asked him who would win the presidential election. He said, "It really doesn't matter because whether it is Obama or Romney the losing party will do everything it can to destroy the other party's purposes." We have now in the U.S. a polarization of political views in which "Obamacare" or gun control are lightning rods to focus each party's anger and agenda.

The country is torn apart on many issues and its citizens are becoming more polarized in their thinking. Some may argue that this is not new. We saw this during the civil rights battles and even regarding the U.S. entry in World War II as isolationists weighed heavily upon President Roosevelt's responses to Churchill's entreaties and pleas. We can go back to the issue of slavery which impacted our politics since the beginning of our country as yet another example.

At least for the moment and for the foreseeable future we are faced with chasms of massive proportions in forming policy. Gone at present is the practice of negotiation and compromise. Instead, we see blame and brinksmanship at its height with the U.S. economy and the world's economy hanging in the balance. As the budget debate continued the clock was relentlessly ticking to then force an even more important debate on the debt ceiling. October 17th has now come and gone but the political landscape shows many scars that will not easily be healed.

In fact, the agreement reached just kicked the can down the road as politicians are amazingly adept at doing. Both parties will lick their wounds and then strengthen themselves for the next round in which kicking the can down the road again will not suffice.

Mr. Washington was a Federalist who believed strongly that the central government performed a much needed function to unite, protect and govern the various states. Thomas Jefferson strongly disagreed in a strong central government as he no doubt saw plenty of examples in Europe of large and supremely powerful federal governments. "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty," he said. A poll published in the Washington Times on October 9th said 88% of Americans say the "government is in charge of the people"; 94% of Republicans agreed and 83% of Democrats agreed.

This week I attended an event at which the former Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke. In referencing the agreement reached at the 11th hour he said that the entire world needs a stable United States. At some point, each of us needs to look beyond whatever political party we may affiliate with and determine as a U.S. Citizen just what is best for the country. Then, with that conviction, we must then hold our politicians accountable to that conviction ... or fire them with our vote if they do not perform. Clint Eastwood had it right when he said during the Republican Convention last year that "we just have to let them go" regarding any politician not doing his or her job.

Both Mr. Washington and Mr. Jefferson would likely be highly displeased with the state of affairs today between the executive and legislative branches of our government. George may very well agree with Thomas when he said, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

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