Dark days for democracy

When a few people are held against their will, it’s a tragedy. When a nation is held in similar peril, it’s just politics — or so many Congressional Republicans would have you believe. For a scant three weeks the American public endured one of the most myopic and unproductive chapters in federal government history. In return for the $27 billion hit suffered by the economy, the deprivation of important federal programs and general decline in overall national confidence, our country is no better.

All sides displayed a great deal of intransigence. The forces of compromise were subordinated to partisanship and ideological polemics. For their part, the Tea Party acolytes were determined to nullify the results of the 2012 election. The president’s refusal to trim expenditures and firm stance on the Affordable Care Act was laudable.

Like crows bickering over a carcass, pundits of all stripe had their vociferous say. Typical of this nattering are remarks made by Matt Kibbe, president of the conservative non-profit, FreedomWorks. Kibbe complained that Republican leadership had “completely lost its way. Not only is this proposal a full surrender, it’s a complete surrender with presents for the Democrats.”

Ironically, Kibbe and his Congressional shill, Sen. Ted Cruz, would have likely settled for nothing less than complete capitulation from the other side of the aisle.

According to a report by Stephens Media Washington Bureau, the National Taxpayers Union took a more conciliatory approach. The group encouraged Congress to support the now-passed deal because it maintains spending levels at the $967 billion set forth in the Budget Control Act, demonstrating some willingness to address the debt — even though it lacks major action on entitlement reform.

Arkansas’ 4th district Rep. Tom Cotton released this statement explaining his begrudged support of the measure: “I supported legislation tonight to prevent Barack Obama from risking a default on our national debt and to open parts of the government that were temporarily shut down. This bill is far from perfect, but it preserves annual spending caps and allows for more negotiation to stop Washington’s out-of-control spending. Senate Democrats have fought hard for more spending and to protect Obamacare at all costs.”

Educated as he is, Cotton must have missed the day in grade school when the teacher covered Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes. This kind of nose holding is as unflattering as it is disingenuous — hardly the kind of behavior we should expect from the man who would be senator. Moreover, his trifling gesture of salary donation suggests he believes us all easily purchased. What about the hundreds of thousands federal workers’ families and the cascade of economic hardship his obstructionism caused?

Perhaps the most engaging summary of this mess was posted by CNN.com. In Leigh Ann Caldwell’s report, “Why is this man smiling? 15 winners and losers from the shutdown crisis,” she deftly casts the winners and losers on all sides. Paradoxically, the same names appear in both columns. This fact reflects the complexity and dysfunction of the entire situation.

Perhaps the most disquieting observation rests in her appraisal of China’s “winner” outcome: “China owns $1.4 trillion worth of U.S. debt. Leaders of the fastest-growing economy have sounded the alarm over the U.S. government’s ineptitude. But with repeat government breakdowns, international investors might begin to rethink placing so much currency — literally and figuratively — in the United States.”

Therein lies the greatest sin of this whole sordid mess: The blow dealt to confidence. A recent Pew Center poll reports that more than three-fourths of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress. The same poll also notes that a slight majority of Americans think their particular representatives are doing a good job. Newsflash: you can’t have it both ways. The fault can’t always be with somebody else’s representative. Unless we own that fact, this drama will unfold again and again.