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What does the government shutdown really prove?

October 9, 2013

OK, everybody is tired of the never-ending stream of sound bites from both sides regarding the government shutdown. What does it really say about our government?

Our system of government in the country was very clearly conceived to be responsible to the people. Nowhere in any of the founding documents does it say that the government is the ruler of the people.

There have always been differences of opinion among the elected officials of government. In a country this large that has historically promoted free speech and thought, that is a foreseeable consequence.

Historically, when the country seemed to be straying too far from the mainstream of popular sentiment, the citizens responded by electing representatives with a focus different from their predecessors.

What is different now, or is it different, and if so, why?

Clearly, the country has been voting for people that can offer them the creature comforts they want with minimum outlay of individual effort or responsibility. It could be that we have just evolved naturally into a lazier, more indolent population. But it could also be that the leaders we have elected have constructed an environment that makes that change inevitable. Once candidates figured out that the person who can promise a chicken in every pot will be the one elected, that became the guiding principle for campaigns.

It is no longer a case of a candidate saying “I will give you the opportunity to succeed and I will make America stronger”. What gets people elected today is focus group politics, i.e. targeting specific voting blocs with the carrot that motivates them to vote one way of the other. That’s not new. What is new is that it is a lot easier today to generate a Pavlovian response in those groups. Twitter must have been designed by politicians.

In other words, instead of targeting a few ward bosses with promises of kickbacks and rewards for delivering the vote, politicians  can produce an almost hypnotic stream of repetitious messaging instaneously delivered to your inbox or smartphone. They have cut out the middle man.

In the past, when news could take days or even weeks to reach the population, people had time to digest the message. They discussed it, it, and formed opinions about it. Today, they just retweet it. They don’t even think about the message. If it contains a buzzword that somehow vaguely excites their neurons, it must be OK. If something is repeated often enough, it must be true, right? That’s the whole principle behind that internet phenomenon known as SEO. After all, the learned philosophers of old convinced everyone the world was flat for centuries, just by repeating the theory.

Utopia isn’t real.

It is human nature to want things to be easy. What the current Washington circus says is that we fell for the line that everything can be easy, if only you can extract enough money from someone else to make it so. Somehow we have fallen for the idea that we are deserving of a Utopian existence.

The world isn’t flat, and the America we have today is not the real America. Success is obtained through a series of often painful and expensive experiences, but success is possible. We are experiencing a lesson in economics that is both painful and expensive. There really isn’t enough money out there to give everyone everything. The money we are spending trying to make that happen isn’t even our own national money.

A preview of our tomorrow

This so-called government shutdown may be manufactured political hype, but it gives a sharply focused picture of what will happen when we truly do run out of money and have no hope of getting more. You can’t spend what you don’t have. When the spigot runs dry for the last time in Washington, when our creditors finally say enough, it will be too late to fix the problem. That’s the real take-away from all the theatrical posturing in our nation’s capital.

Empty talk and politically motivated tweets isn’t going to address the problem. Just getting legislators and the president together for a photo-op won’t put the country on the right track. We have to insist they get real. If you want to tweet something, tweet that. 

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