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“Of the People, By the People, and For the People”: Why I Am to Blame for the Shutdown of the U. S. Government – Part II October 24, 2013

Ask me to tell you a bit about the legislation that has passed through the House and Senate this last year and I’ll have to be honest with you: I can’t.  Truth be told, with the exception of the few highly controversial bits which have made their way onto the evening news (and even most of those didn’t pass in 2013), I have no real idea what my elected officials have been doing.

Transfer this scenario to a business situation and it becomes outrageous.  Can you imagine a store manager hiring an employee, telling him he liked his ethics and then leaving him alone without any supervision or direction except to step in periodically when he made a mistake?  It sounds ridiculous, yet too many of us do just that after casting our vote.  Happy to have “our candidate” in office, we sit back, relax, and leave the steering to our representatives without even once questioning how well they know the very people they are serving.

This lackadaisical approach became evident to me when in the course of a dialogue with a friend she mentioned that she had actually written to her elected officials regarding an issue which concerned her.  With a tone of lament indicating that I really don’t have time for such “radical” involvement, admitted that I hadn’t.

Oddly enough, she didn’t let me off the hook. “It wasn’t a long letter,” she explained.  “They don’t have time to read epics.  But it was long enough to clarify where I stood and why.  It took only a few minutes to write and I sent the same letter to each of them via e-mail.”  (Click the highlighted links if you’d like to know how to contact your Senators and Representatives.)

It was clear that she recognized something important which I had been ignoring: that it’s our responsibility to ensure that our representatives know what we expect from them, not their responsibility to drag that information out of us.  This, of course, highlighted another important problem: if I am responsible for giving direction to those who represent me, then I am also responsible for knowing which direction I want them to go.  And that’s a question that I can’t answer unless I’m willing to invest at least a little bit of time in learning about and understanding what is actually going on in Washington.  (I say “actually” because it’s all too easy to get our news from secondary sources: a special interest group we sympathize with, a nightly news broadcast, or even a good friend who we trust to “stay on top” of the issues.)

I went in search of a few sources to help me stay informed and found a few that are actually quite useful:

  • For information on legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives, take a look at www.house.gov/legislative where you’ll find a calendar to keep you up to date on what’s taking place on the House floor and in committee.
  • For information on the U. S. Senate, check out http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/ where you’ll find links to floor proceedings, committee hearings, and the Congressional Record.
  • For a quick look at the bills, themselves, check out the Daily Digest which provides a condensed list of all the bills currently under consideration in both the House and Senate with a link to the text of each piece of legislation.
  • And to look for the text of a specific piece of legislation, visit the Library of Congress and follow the search cues.

There are, of course, some other great sources, but these provide a start.  Taking the time to peruse them is the first step for citizens who, like myself, are willing to acknowledge that what happens in Washington isn’t Washington’s fault, but our own.  Involvement is what sets our system of government apart.  So let’s get involved, make a difference, end the gridlock, and get the government running once more.


“Of the People, By the People, For the People”: Why I Am to Blame for the Shutdown of the U.S. Government – Part I October 17, 2013

Filed under: Government — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

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…)


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