Government shutdown displays shame in politics

You’d have to be living under a rock in the vast jungle of Siberia to not notice the government shutdown that has dominated media for the past few weeks. 

I can’t tell you how many articles I read that had titles something similar to “What the Government Shutdown Means” and “How the Government Shutdown Will Affect YOU!” A lot of names, terms and blame were thrown around, whether it be on President Barack Obama for not wanting to negotiate a settlement or Rep. Ted Cruz from Texas who seemed to want a shutdown if he couldn’t get Obamacare defunded.

The end finally came Wednesday, when an agreement was finally reached to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, ending the shutdown. I remember checking my phone to see the update and then I found myself smiling and thinking in a celebratory manner, “Wow, they really did it!”

Just for a few seconds, I had some faith in our government to do something that benefited its citizens. I initially praised the government for ending the shutdown quickly and emphatically, and ultimately the cooler heads prevailed at the negotiating table.

After these first few seconds of uplifting thought, the real feelings hit me. The idea of a government shutting down seems antiquated to say the least. 

It seems like something that would be more likely to happen in ancient Greece or Rome than modern-day United States of America, where we rely on a calculated system of checks and balances to keep our government functioning. How is there not some type of law, amendment or signed document ensuring that this doesn’t keep happening?

After asking myself these questions, I reached what I considered a saner conclusion: The government should be ashamed of itself. 

I know this is a common sentiment shared among a growing number of the dissatisfied population, and deservedly so.

The root of this shame starts on a very basic level. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I think most rational human beings can agree that a government’s job, at a base level at the very least, is quite simple: to govern. What is shameful is that those members of government would abandon this very role for purely political reasons. Their job is to serve the needs of the people who elected them, and if they argue into a stalemate, no one’s needs are being met, regardless of political affiliation.

The most shameful thing about this shutdown, however, was not the fact that our senators, representatives and executives could not reach a settlement, but rather that they maintained this stalemate knowing the effects it had on the American people. Just for one figure, 800,000 government employees were forced to stay home from work.

Some of these employees probably live paycheck-to-paycheck, and depend on a steady line of work to survive. By shutting down the government, politicians actively carried out (and actively sought, in Ted Cruz’s case) to deny these people their line of employment, however temporary it may be. 

In addition, it also temporarily eliminated valuable services to many people, including cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency for example, where besides laboratory staff and emergency responders, nearly all other operations were cut. The U.S. Department of Agriculture saw cuts to most of its operations besides field inspections of meat, poultry and eggs.

The fact that the government knew this would happen, and still couldn’t find it in themselves to make concessions with each other shows that they were, at least in this case, incompetent of fulfilling their jobs. Their jobs are to govern, or to provide for all citizens, whether those citizens are employed by the government or not. 

When their job is to keep the government running, shutting the government down is not only wrong, but literally the exact opposite of the job description. How many other jobs can you get away with doing the exact opposite of your job description and still hold a position of such honor?

Perhaps this is another sign of the crippling political polarization that has seemed to grip the country for pretty much the entire realm of recent memory. 

I’m all for political differences and even spirited debate, but when this debate becomes more important than services for American citizens, I think it’s probably time to take a step back and analyze the United States’ political culture as a whole.

Boswell is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Ted Cruz was a representative. The article should have stated Ted Cruz is a senator. The Daily Illini regrets the error.