Government shutdown. Debt-ceiling showdown. Unmitigated insanity. How could this happen? Who is responsible? We know how it happened. The same way it always happens – a gang of ego-soaked, ideologically immovable politicians refused to negotiate, refused to compromise and recklessly dared their opponents to drive off a cliff. As to who is responsible, consider these bookend comments. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner: “This isn’t some damn game.” President Barack Obama: “We’ve got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis.”
Boehner’s quote, much played on YouTube and elsewhere, came in the early days of the federal government’s partial shutdown. Obama’s comment came at the end of a brief speech delivered in conjunction with his end-zone victory dance shortly after congressional Republicans surrendered and agreed to reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling. The question is: Were these guys listening to themselves – or do they actually believe they bore no responsibility for the budget-debt dustup?
Boehner grumbled that it wasn’t a game as if he were an innocent victim of the gamesmanship that provoked the fight rather than an active if reluctant participant. Obama railed against governing by crisis as if the crisis didn’t have his name written all over it. Amazing. The fact is, Boehner’s inability and/or unwillingness to control the political suicide wing of his Republican congressional delegation is the reason a fairly fundamental legislative dispute degenerated into a near catastrophe (yes, tea party Republicans’ skepticism notwithstanding, a financial default by the United States of America would trigger an economic disaster). And surely Obama knows that the government by crisis he bemoaned was an inevitable product of his refusal to negotiate in good faith (sure, he said he’d gladly listen to the other side but he made it perfectly clear that never in a million years would he agree to anything they proposed). For these two prime perpetrators of the mess to complain about the mess they were in was as preposterous as a reckless driver complaining about the condition his car is in after he crashes into a tree. Maybe the speaker and the president were in denial, as the 12-step practitioners say of substance abusers who blame everyone and everything but themselves for their messed-up, drug-addled lives. Maybe Boehner and Obama couldn’t imagine that anything they would do could cause so much trouble.
Or maybe, and far more likely, they were cynically dishing up a big bucketful of self-serving, disingenuous hog slop and hoping that the public, hungering for a glimmer of leadership, would swallow it first and ask questions later. It would be unfair to place all the blame on Boehner and Obama, of course. There’s plenty of blame to go around – and op-eds have flowed from keyboards far and wide as opiners of every stripe endeavor to divvy up responsibility for the mistakes and misdeeds that led the last remaining superpower to its latest moment of humiliation. Tea party Republicans have suffered the brunt of the attack but Senate Democrats and their leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, have been targeted as well.
To hear some tell it, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz touched off the crisis with his filibuster lambasting Obamacare, but seriously folks – the shutdown was born and nurtured in the House of Representatives; Cruz doesn’t work there. Of all the groups and individuals that the theoreticians of print and cyberspace have sought to hold accountable for the gridlock and paralytic uselessness that grips our government, one suspect stands out: the electorate – We the People. Voters handed over the keys of government to the clowns and misfits who seem determined to wreck the greatest democracy ever conceived by mankind. Only voters can take the keys back and give them to more responsible representatives. Why haven’t they? Why won’t they? When, if ever, will they? Who’s responsible for the mess? We are.