"This is a democracy. If you don't like what you see, you can change it. Don't break it."
-- Barack Obama, Oct. 17, 2013
We did our best as parents to instill in our kids a sense of fair play, accommodation and cooperation, and we hoped our kids never resorted to the pouty spoiled brat maneuver of taking his ball and going home if the game didn't go their way.
I guess we didn't all succeed like we should've. We see in Congress a cabal of non-accommodators who collectively are redolent of that pouty spoiled brat who would rather break the game than play by the rules established two-plus centuries ago -- rules encouraging openness and debate. There's a time for debating, a time for voting, a time for changing, and a time for getting on with the business of we the people. We've been injured, all of us, in more ways than most can count: Government employees, suppliers and contractors and their suppliers; the suppliers of the suppliers; government contract employees; vacationers and tourists shut out of public buildings, places, and spaces. Who can possibly tally the cascade of damage done during the 16-day shutdown?
Are we proud of ourselves, or should we be embarrassed? How do we look on the world stage? I'd wager we look pretty much like fabled Epaminondas who couldn't figure out how to carry out his several missions. At least he kept bungling because he didn't know better. The cabal knew better, which makes them all the more nefarious. Don't get me wrong; it's not that their position had no merit, or that it didn't deserve its day in court. But their court date came and went, and like all things with a deadline, their time had passed. The train had left the station, and there's no valid cause to call it back. Of no small concern, though, is that the cabal either did grasp the likely consequences of a shutdown and didn't care, or it didn't. Neither is particularly comforting vis a vis their influence in government. And those injured have every right to be furious at those who caused it, whether knowingly or through ignorance. Moreover, once the bill was passed guaranteeing retroactive pay for those on furlough, what was the point of the furlough? Staff could have gone back to work then and there and the cascade of damage halted. But no, the furlough was allowed to continue adding further insult to prolonged injury of all parties.
Sheesh. Our government seems to be in the kind of slow-motion self-destruction de Tocqueville warned us about nearly two centuries ago: Damage done by those in government who are not equipped by temperament, training, education or experience to do the job. Jamming up the gears of the polity takes no genius; any dim-witted nincompoop can do that. Un-jamming, though, takes skill and a certain kind of levelheaded temperament seemingly lacking on the hill. As an old pilot friend and attorney of mine told me long ago it takes no particular genius to fly a plane on the level once airborne, it's the taking off and landing where levelheaded judgment and skill are needed. I'd venture the same is true of governance; times of trouble call for times of genius. And we seem to be drowning in Epaminondas.
All Republicans knew ahead of the crisis what the endgame was -- caving -- and they knew how bad things could get and how badly it would hurt innocent bystanders. Collateral damage? No big deal. And there they went, dead ahead, and let the game play itself out without ever resolving anything long-term. Yes, we must visit this tragicomic Kabuki again shortly.
All one can do is shake one's head in bewildered amazement and disbelief that things got as bad as they did, and soon will again. But then again, de Tocqueville and Jefferson alike declared that one gets the government he deserves. Maybe they were right and we don't deserve better; we're the ones who put our leaders in office. But we can certainly follow Obama's Dictum: You don't like it? Change it.
Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.