Jean Barker

US government restart!

2013-10-18 11:07

Jean Barker

The American political system is so complicated that I'm never surprised when Americans themselves can't explain it to me. But there is a reason for its intricacies: checks and balances built into it are designed to prevent radical ideas suddenly taking root and creating chaos. Problem is that when a few screws are loose, these checks and balances also result in the entire system grinding to a halt. This never happens... except that it just did, and has done multiple times throughout US history.

The "loose screws" in this instance were Tea Party and ultra-right-wing Republicans who thought the mature way to handle a new law that the people had voted for in the recent elections was to go on strike - this to prove how much they hate communist evils like universal health care. Spot the irony?

Expecting the worst

What's weirdest about this is how little the whole thing grinding to a halt affected most people's day to day lives. I am pretty sure that the absence of crunchy peanut butter, or a change in the weather, would have been more noticeable to most people than the absence of Congress.

Without a federal government, the USA still functions pretty well on a day to day basis - at least in California. The trains and buses run (not on time, but they show up eventually). Stores open and close when they normally do. Road work continues. Traffic is a nightmare. Police arrest people for committing crimes. The sun rises and sets.

The worst

Of course, the worst effects of the government shutdown are still to be felt, but in the short term, it was no joke, either.

First off, government workers were "furloughed" for the period of the shutdown. Furloughed is a nice word for being suspended without pay. Government contractors were also screwed for 16 days' work.

Secondly, the US damaged its credit rating, which is a bad thing if you have just wasted billions of dollars staging expensive political theatre, and will soon need to borrow even more money to cover your costs... and yes, costs. The government shutdown already cost the US around $24bn, and reduced the projected 4th quarter GDP growth from a 3% to 2.4%. So the costs will continue to mount, and be paid by the US taxpayers who can least afford it.

Thirdly, the FDA stopped functioning, allowing some dodgy chicken into the food system. The salmonella outbreak only made a few hundred people sick in about 18 states so far, but this small problem is a warning as to what could have happened. We're lucky Sandy didn't hit last week, right?

The affect on America's wannabe status as "world leader" may be the biggest damage done. All that finger-wagging at others countries, especially during the EU debt crisis, looks sillier than ever now. But knowing America, not having earned the right won't mean they stop being bossy. Old habits, etc.

The Best

It's not all bad, of course - especially not for Democrats. The whole thing has made Republicans look ridiculous - incapable of governing themselves, much less the country. And many Republican supporters are disgusted too. Some local action was by-the-book protest. Other more inventive types included members of congress being double-charged by restaurants when eating out in Washington!

It's a relief, and a testament to the political system, that the childish tactics of a few didn't pay off for them, even if the damage to America will be counted for years to come. Regional (state) level government was able to keep the country running until so called high level issues could be resolved. And things stayed pretty stable - no coups, no vigilante action, business as usual.

The Funniest

And then there's the viral videos, and funny articles. Some of my favourites came from Collegehumor.com. In one, Obama takes his congress to the iStore. In another, he writes a desperate appeal to uncooperative roommates .

And Theonion.com nailed it with this vindictive headline: "Heroic Broken Sewage Pipe Floods Congress With Human Waste".

If Americans were laughing at the government before, they're ROFFLing now. Obama is slightly up in the polls today, thanks to the GOP's bully tactics, while 78% of Americans polled think everybody in congress deserves to be fired. Oh, if only.

To save you googling, I blogged some of my favourite shutdown virals for you.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

Send your comments to Jean


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