Federal government shuts down
It actually happened. As a result of partisan bickering in congress, the government has shut down. Then again, “shut down” might be a bit of an exaggeration. The current situation might be better characterized as a dramatic reduction inoperations. The truth is that the essential organs of public administration and national defense are still fully functional. The armed forces remain largely unaffected, as does the postal service, and the many governmental departments that operate at state, county and municipal levels are practically un-phased. All in all the shutdown is a bit of an anticlimax, with its greatestpresent ramifications the closure of the national parks and monuments, and the furlough of all federal employees deemed non-essential. So far the majority of Americans are notseriously impacted by the crisis, and many are none the worse at all.
That having been said, even though the short-term effects of the shutdown are at least manageable, the situation still poses serious questions about the operational effectiveness of the federal government. This shutdown came as no surprise. Our legislators had more than ample time to resolve the problem while it was still a non-issue, and quite easily at that. All they had to do was agree on a budget. And yet somehow, they did not.
Now instead of racing to make the compromises necessary to restore the government to full functionality, politicians on both sides of the isle seem willing only to point fingers. According to Republicans, President Obama is responsible for the crisis by refusing to allow them to forestall the implementation of his healthcare policy. In response the President and other leading Democrats initially went so far as to implicate the entire Republican party as the culprit. Later they refined the scope of their allegations to focus only on the Tea Party and other ideological hardliners.Then at last, somewhat arbitrarily, on Republican Congressman John Boehner. So are we, the American people, to believe that the machinery of the world’s most powerful political entity has been hobbled by the stubbornness of two men? Frankly, I don’t know which is more ridiculous: the suggestion, or the fact that our elected representatives in the nation’s highest offices would peddle it to their constituents disguised as truth.
In the end, the problem is not individual stubbornness, but systemic factionalism. Our government as it exists today–at least to the extent of its executive and legislative branches–has become so enmeshed in partisanship that it serves the interests not of American citizens, but of the political parties they belong to. It may satisfy the ideology of the Democratic party for its congressmen and women to preserve the affordable care act at all costs, and the ideology of the Republicans to attempt in all events to thwart Democratic ambitions to install what they perceive as an engine of socialism. What the American people need in a time of crisis is not cabals of warring ideologues, but an assembly of national leaders capable of acting rationally to set aside their petty disputes and make whatever compromises are necessary to pass a Federal budget and reopen the government. However, because of the factional adversarial nature of current politics no one is willing to be the first to drop the party line, even after collective failure to do so has already demonstrably damaged the country congress and the president profess to serve. This dedicated refusal to compromise in both parties is ridiculous. Brinksmanship presents serious dangers in any situation, but to practice it once the participants have already gone over the proverbial brink not only presents the same dangers, but can serve no purpose. An analogy would be a game of chicken in which both drivers stay the course until their vehicles collide, and having through good fortune sustained only minor damages, then reposition their vehicles so as to play again. If events progress according to the established pattern, the ultimate result can only be the utter destruction of both machines, and perhaps their drivers. This cautionary tale should not foretell the future of our Federal government, but I am not the first to fear that it might.
Founding father George Washington, wrote the farewell address in which he warned the American people and their representatives against the dangers of unchecked factionalism. He feared that a government divided along partisan lines would be constantly in opposition to itself, and that constant infighting and love-of-party would distractstatesmen from serving the common good. He even suspected that factionalism might eventually lead to tyranny, if one party could consistently dominate another and use its dominant influence to force its own agenda in the writing and enforcement of laws.
When I first read Washington’s concerns in the farewell address some years ago, I thought they were the worries of an aging freedom fighter from a different era needless precautions contrived to safeguard the freedoms of an infant nation only recently wrested from the grasp of an absolutist monarch. After helplessly watching the debacle in Washington plunge the government into a state of partial paralysis, however, I am forced to revise my opinion. Like Washington, I can only conclude that partisanship is anathema to effective government.
Many political commentators have suggested that parties were not always inherently undemocratic–that until now, there has always been room for compromise and robust debate. While that might be true, it is incontrovertible that partisanship has been inexorably on the rise in recent decades. The gridlock that caused the shutdown we now witness is not an anomaly, but only the latest increment in an ongoing escalation in the party-centeredness of American politics.
In order to check this trend, there is only one truly effective solution; we must dissolve the party system. By eliminating political parties, we could restore the system of government the American founders envisioned; a government in which the people’s representatives are elected solely on the basis of their qualifications and personal platforms. Candidates with inventive political perspectives would no longer have to sacrifice their creativity or their values to shelter under party umbrellas, and individual freedom and innovation would no longer be punished but celebrated and cherished as the pillars of representative democracy they are. It is true that doing away with parties would mean restructuring many of the political institutions that have evolved since the adoption of the party system, but ultimately, it would be well worth it. The truth is that this change is long overdue, and we should wait no longer to urge its implementation. The parties have shutdown the government now it’s time to shut down the parties.
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