Thursday, October 3, 2013

When Everything Comes to a Grinding Halt

This week, the Everyone Serves bloggers have been asked to talk about the government shutdown and its effect on military families. This is a very personal issue, so I highly recommend that you check out the posts written by my fellow bloggers as well. You can find them here. 

I spent this week in Virginia. You may notice that visiting the homes of some of our forefathers has inspired my thoughts on this issue. 

I know you've heard me say this before, but I have an extreme distaste for seeing my community, military families, used as political fodder. It makes me furious any time real service and sacrifice becomes trivialized by the games being played by our ostensible leaders. That same distaste is what I feel today over the government shutdown. 

Congress did, at the Eleventh Hour, pass a bill that ensured my deployed husband continues to get his paycheck. And they called it support for military families. In the most literal sense, I suppose it is.  Soldiers got paid yesterday. But is it support really

Senator Mike Lee said this about the Pay Our Military Act (POMA):
“The current fight in Washington is about whether or not Congress will act to protect the American people from Obamacare. Our differences on that issue should not put at risk payments to our military. They should be fully funded immediately.”
POMA passed both houses without opposition. But not before weeks of totally unnecessary alarm, contingency planning, and other strategizing about what to do if the government decided not to pay its military. It's really hard to view a string-along like that as support. 

As an aside, I will say that although the whole situation displays the worst of our government, it has been inspiring to see the private sector (people and companies) step in to stand in the gap for military families.

But what about the hundreds of thousands of people who weren't rescued yesterday? Who is standing in the gap for them? Does Congress think that it is okay to “put at risk” payments to all of the other people that serve the public? And, by the way, that serve the military?

In talking about the "travesty" averted by not sending our military "into combat with only an IOU," Senator Carl Levin said this from the Senate floor: 
don’t be fooled — it’s just one travesty among many. Even if we restrict our view to the impact of a government shutdown on the military, there are many other terrible impacts of a shutdown.”
He’s right about that. Something like 400,000 civilian Defense workers saw their jobs frozen indefinitely yesterday. And do you know who they were? Our teachers, instructors and childcare providers. Our doctors and nurses. The people who run our grocery stores, drug stores, and gas stations. And for military families living abroad—and even some living in the States—there are no replacements for some of the services being lost.

It’s very hard to be anything more than ambivalent when the people who take care of us are being treated like they don’t matter. And when their being treated like they don’t matter makes a challenging lifestyle even harder by jeopardizing basic services for military families, well that’s just the icing on the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad cake.

Is it possible that somewhere along the way Congress forgot that they were holding actual people’s lives hostage by refusing to work together? Or worse, that they are so removed from the actual consequences of their actions that they just don’t care? 

I hope not. I hope, as Thomas Jefferson said, that we can recognize that "every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle," and that we should be "united in common efforts for the common good." I really like to believe in the goodness of humanity—even in politics—and I feel certain that people have their reasons for doing what they are doing. 

But what we need is for all of our lawmakers to take a step back and start talking about the “how,” not the “whether,” of getting something done. We need them to say “we care about our people too much to maintain a stalemate at their expense.” So many of us are angry this week because we feel for our fellow man having to deal with the effects of a government that has broken faith with him. We need a government that would not consider a course of action that knowingly harms its people. We need Jefferson's "wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another," even, and especially, when those people causing injury are our leaders. 

Dolley Madison used to seat political enemies together at her dinner table so that they were forced to talk and be civil despite differences. This simple act of making people interact personally resulted in a tremendous amount of positive change for the burgeoning republic. And the point of the exercise was simple: to remind political opponents that, at the end of the day, their decisions are made for people, by people. Generally good, even if flawed, even if vigorously dissenting, people. Not the boogeyman. 

Somebody needs to go Dolley Madison on our legislature immediately. 

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