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The Government We Deserve

This article is more than 6 years old.

The government shutdown/threat to default on our financial obligations officially ended Thursday morning, and the media has spent the hours since churning out a predictable barrage of “who won/who lost” pieces.

This is standard operating procedure for today’s Fourth Estate, which treats politics more like a sporting event than a matter of governance with actual moral consequences.

This will happen only when it is in their best interest to legislate rather than grandstand, to solve the common crises of state rather than engaging in senseless ideological tantrums.

As the president tried to explain in his statement to the press, nobody “wins” when the essential functions of government are crippled by extremists.

What’s more, telling the most zealous members of the GOP that they “lost” to President Barack Hussein Obama will only feed the shame-and-rage cycle that galvanizes them and their permanently aggrieved base.

Playing this sort of zero sum game is also incredibly short-sighted.

The only foreseeable “win” for our body politic will come when politicians become rational moral actors. This will happen only when it is in their best interest to legislate rather than grandstand, to solve the common crises of state rather than engaging in senseless ideological tantrums. And this, folks, will only happen when our electorate demands that it happen.

Because the most common and insidious refrain we’ve heard over the past two weeks is that the dysfunction in Washington is somehow being inflicted on the poor, helpless people of America.

President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
President Barack Obama walks out to make a statement to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Sorry. No sale.

The essence of self-government is that we the people get the government we deserve. The reason a pack of ignorant mendacious yahoos have been able to block every common sense measure proposed by Obama and the Democrats — even the ones they originally devised and championed — is because they had the votes to get elected.

And the reason they had those votes is because, in most cases, special (read: corporate) interests raised millions of dollars to get Republicans elected to dozens of state legislatures, and these lawmakers hand-carved districts that favored their brethren.

That wouldn’t be so calamitous if we were dealing with the GOP of a decade ago. In those days, Republicans worked at the behest of big business and other filthy rich people. Their marching orders were to push low tax rates for the one percent and deregulation. But they basically wanted government to function, at least well enough to keep the economy chugging along.

Then, a few years ago, these same monied interests fostered a movement that consisted largely of angry ill-informed elderly white people, Libertarians, gun nuts, and other proud patriots who despised the idea of a person of color in the White House. The Fox News faithful, basically.

The vast majority of this country agrees that our elected officials should focus on solving real problems — climate change, resource depletion, immigration, gun violence — not cooking up phony blood feuds.

This faction has no coherent policy goals aside from vague declarations about erasing our debt and limiting government. The movement is mostly a chance for troubled people to experience their own rage, paranoia and sense of victimization.

And it’s these folks who have essentially gone rogue over the past few months, to the point that “mainstream” Republicans (who had been happy to use them as shock troops) got good and freaked out. The threat of a total economic meltdown tends to have that effect on truly rich people.

The only way to get ourselves out of this mess, therefore, is for those who want the American government to function to take action.

Liberals and Independents in states with gerrymandered congressional districts need to work to take that districting authority out of the hands of partisan lawmakers, either by amendment or at the ballot box.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Moderate Republicans and their corporate sponsors need to stop funding, and trying to appease, nihilistic fanatics.

And those of us in blue states need to stop pretending that the dysfunction sowed by craven politicians and for-profit demagogues will be limited to the Confederacy.

The vast majority of this country agrees that our elected officials should focus on solving real problems — climate change, resource depletion, immigration, gun violence — not cooking up phony blood feuds.

But unless we shed our reflexive cynicism and get off our rear ends and become engaged in the political process at the local, state, and national level, we’ll only have ourselves to blame for the next shutdown.

This program aired on October 18, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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