All day Tuesday, the state and national media walked us through what the government shutdown meant for everyday Americans. It was a sobering portrait. While not all government functions just stopped at midnight Oct. 1, many federal agencies had to shut their doors and tell employees to stay home. The reality of the first systematic shutdown in two decades grew more pronounced as the day wore on.
On social media, where strings of comments often take on a life of their own, the blame game was in full force. Lawmakers, looking weary late Monday night, gave us hope of passing a budget in the face of Republican attacks on President Obama’s health care law. But they failed to agree on a new budget and refused to extend the current one. And then early Tuesday, the Senate, which had previously voted to keep the government open, rejected a House proposal to begin conference committee negotiations.
All of this has left the next legislative steps an anxiety-laden mystery and the country vulnerable. Tuesday’s progress was anything but that.
Voters do not balance decisions on rhetoric and posturing. Every decision is not black and white. The shades of gray of compromise should define our resilience and underscore the hard decisions of concession. Shame on our lawmakers who, once again, have used brinkmanship to move us backward. Shame on our nation’s elected leadership for guiding us over the barrels of political exploitation and blackmail. Shame on anyone who feels it is OK to use Americans’ jobs as leverage to score political points.
Our nation is broken. In prior decades, even as recently as the Gingrich-Clinton era, political rivalries still could be hammered out in shows of grace and statesmanship. No more. This Congress and this president are destined to reshape our nation’s politics forever, tagging every issue with all-or-nothing rhetoric and posturing. And then, when leadership shifts, the mouthpieces for stalling will likely have different party affiliations after their names, and the stalling will become even more frustrating, shrill and ineffective.
Every Vermonter should be irritated today. The lose-lose situation at hand highlights our dysfunction and embarrasses our pretense that dialogue and debate of all issues will provide educated decisions by our leaders.
In this world of 140-character tweets, mindless sound bites and the attention span of gnats, this shutdown demonstrates just how polemic we have become and how wrong-headed we can be. And yet political capital is burned with zeal.
The process in place allows us to speak up and tell our representatives how we feel. This indefinite shutdown, this game of chicken, will wear on at great cost to our nation.
Speak out to our elected officials — write, email, call — and demand a modicum of decency. Ideology and idealism have been lost. Demand action and resolution. Stalemates will, for obvious reasons, get us nowhere.
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