It’s been two weeks since the shutdown of the U.S. Government and during that time I’ve witnessed a fairly wide variety of responsive behaviors. For some, the shutdown has been only mildly influential. The worst they’ve experienced as a result is an inability to access a few useful government websites. For others, the effects have been earth-shattering, leaving them scrambling to find the money to pay their bills. Oddly enough, however, the most prevalent response seems to have less to do with lifestyle and far more to do with blame.
There is no denying that the shutdown has resulted from a combination of poor legislation and bad budgeting… but on whose part? Human tendency is to see the bulk of the blame as lying with the other side and sadly, such beliefs often degenerate into name-calling and fact twisting. Under which presidency (because we all know that the chief executive is entirely responsible for everything congress does while he is in charge) did spending increase by the greatest dollar amount? Under whose supervision did spending increase by the greatest percentage? (I love the way a simply rephrasing of the question can dramatically alter who seems to have handled the money most ineffectively.) Are the Republicans to blame? The Democrats? Elected officials in general? Or is there more to our present dilemma than meets the eye?
As I pondered this question, I couldn’t help feeling a pang of guilt. We live in a “democratic republic” (at least, that was what they called it when I was in school) and one of the key features of our political system is citizen involvement. We have no hereditary governing class; those who hold office do so because “we the people” have placed them there. It is patriotic citizens like myself who bear the burden of this responsibility. We read the literature. We listen to the debates. We go to the polls.
That said, I have to admit that my contribution as a “responsible citizen” is often far less than it ought to be. With some shame, I confess that I usually cast my vote based upon a candidate’s stance on a relatively narrow range of issues. Does he support more funding for education? How does he feel about gun control? Will he vote to protect the rights of every American or of only a few?
The result is that I find myself asking, “Is it really enough just to ensure that I’m happy with a candidate’s basic philosophy?” If it is, can I really be certain that his stance on a few issues is sufficient to guarantee that he’ll fully represent my beliefs and convictions once he finds himself in Washington? And who is responsible if he doesn’t? Is it his for failing to do the job I sent him to do? Or is it mine for failing to ensure that I’ve elected the right person? Or worse yet, is it mine for taking such a hands-off approach to a governmental process designed to involve each of us?
(To be continued…)