Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

There’s a Battle Outside And It’s Ragin’

So, for most of two weeks now, the government of the most powerful nation on earth has had a sign hanging from its figurative door, reading “Closed We Are”.

Except for a few crucial slivers of the operation, of course. Tiny things like the Amber Alert system, the National Weather Service’s local forecast page (whew!), … and the entire military. Otherwise, we’re locked down tight. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Oh yes, and one other tiny component of the federal government is still safely up and running: the blowhards.

Citizens have posted online about how they are troubled to hear that Congresspeople are still getting paid, when less heralded federal employees are not. It’s a symbol that rings hollow. (And I am deeply sorry that I wrote that last.)

Similar online expressions of anxiety have noted that people like FDA regulators, transportation safety boards, and people who monitor flu season (which starts right about now, by the way) are off the job for reasons totally not of their making. In fact, for reasons they might have trouble even conceiving of.

And then there are the national parks!…

Which might not seem a monumental thing (again, my humble apologies; I don’t know what’s wrong with this keyboard today), compared to some of these other examples. If tourists are inconvenienced when they arrive at national parks from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, well, it’s an inconvenience. Disappointing to set up a vacation months previously and then have plain ol’ bad luck prevent proper enjoyment of these wonders – but the earth will continue to rotate, probably.

Except for one small matter. As a New York Times article reminded me yesterday, there are livelihoods that depend on the operation of these tourist attractions, beyond those of the actual Park Rangers. There are legions of people in national park “gateway communities” who own, or work at, or supply nearby restaurants and hotels and shops. These people depend upon the success of the national park attractions at peak tourist times – and in the case of several businesses referenced by the Times article, that peak tourism time is right now! – to help them weather the slower winter months, until spring returns with more tourists.

I can draw a parallel, I think, betwixt the federal government and my local professional sports teams. Big ol’ overpaid athletes gonna make their money whether they make the playoffs or not – but the deeper into the playoffs the Bruins or Red Sox go, the more fans will pass near and potentially through the gates of establishments on Causeway Street and in Kenmore Square. And on those occasions when professional sports leagues experience strikes or lockouts – the pro sports equivalent of a government shutdown – who suffers? Not usually the bigshots. Many or most of the players make enough money that they can weather a strike or a lockout, even an extended one. Owners? Dear heaven, no problem there. Many members of Congress already are economically set for life (or are much closer to that condition than I am) before they even take their oaths.

As usual … it’s the little guy who takes it on the chin, who may not be able to make that rent payment, whose business may end up in real trouble – for reasons beyond their control, and often beyond their comprehension. In the case of our current federal freeze, the Times article calls them victims of “political brinksmanship”.

As for the politicos who are living, nay, thriving on that brink: during this government shutdown, the media has relayed a remarkable number of quotes from a remarkable number of politicians, revelatory of a remarkable number of tin ears. Many members of Congress have seemed unaware that they were revealing truths that would inevitably label them as “out of touch with average Americans”. They have exhibited an unawareness of the plight of the little guy – as exemplified by this shutdown, but I think also in a more general sense.

We have sent to Washington, generally speaking (with a few precious exceptions), a pack of people who can’t truly represent us adequately, in part because they manage to betray no concept of what non-millionaires truly have to do to make ends meet. Economically, most of our elected representatives are far removed from the need to worry about making ends meet. For some of them, those ends have never been measurably far apart. If there’s pain in the world, they don’t feel it. In terms of economics – and increasingly, in terms of empathy – we don’t have much of a representative government anymore.

Is it worse if those representatives don’t know what they need to know about their constituents … or is it worse if it turns out that they don’t even care? Or that they care more about pleasing the people who fill their campaign coffers than they care about the people they campaigned to represent? Or … that they care more about an ideology than they care about humans that ain’t them?

I got mine … good luck to you.

More than one embittered columnist has written things along the lines of, “well, we elected these clowns – so we got the government we deserve.” But I’m not convinced that this is exactly accurate. I don’t think we do “deserve” the clowns, no matter how much or how little spare time we may have available to get ourselves educated about political issues. I sure don’t think I do, if I may be so bold as to flex a little self-esteem. And I don’t think my family or friends or neighbors deserve them either. We deserve better, we deserve more responsive, we deserve less self-serving. If you’re gonna be a public servant – and a lot of elected representatives probably think that’s a name for the guy who shambles into their offices and brings them their morning cuppa joe – then Serve The Public.

Because right about now – even without this ridiculous government shutdown – your public needs some improved serving.

As if on cue, this afternoon I received this eMail from the publicity engine of the United States Marine Band:

The following concerts have been canceled due to the government shutdown: Oct. 17 at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Va.; Oct. 19 at Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington, Del.; and Oct. 20 at the Marine Barracks Annex in Washington, D.C.”

So there’s that, too. Perhaps not as pressing a situation as the people who depend on social security payments or food stamps or other government assistance programs. Only some opportunities for our young people to experience a little culture.

Come, Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call…


P.S. Trivia about the “Closed We Are” reference: that was on a handwritten sign, posted on the office door of the Soviet press corps at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, the day after the “Miracle on Ice” American upset of the Soviet national hockey team – the “do you believe in miracles? Yes!!” game. This, according to then-United Press International radio reporter Keith Olbermann.


October 11, 2013 - Posted by | current events, government, news, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Dearest Doctor,

    I applaud your general sentiment but I hope you don’t mind if I gently chide you for a bit of “false equivalence” in this piece. Granted, I’m a bit biased given that I work for a current member of Congress, but I don’t think it’s fair to paint Congress with such a broad brush. Both parties aren’t equally to blame here. There are many who are standing up and trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, a minority within the majority of the House are not among them.

    This minority of the majority (mostly aligned with the so-called Tea Party) rightfully deserves the admonishment you deliver but it’s not fair to conflate them with those who are putting country and people first by opposing them. Yes, by opposing them, the government shutdown. But what would you have them do? As Ezra Klein characterized the White House’s position (the correct one, I think), “Republicans are trying to create a new, deeply undemocratic pathway through which a minority party that lost the last election can enact an agenda that would never pass the normal legislative process. It’s nothing less than an effort to use the threat of a financial crisis to nullify the results of the last election.” And what’s even crazier is that Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid had a handshake deal to pass a clean CR (at the House-desired levels) three weeks prior to the shutdown! Boehner later reneged after Sen. Ted Cruz and his gang hijacked the House GOP and here we are.

    I know you know all this but it doesn’t seem to be reflected in the post above. Not sure if you were looking to make a more general point without offending some readers but in doing so, you are creating a false equivalence among the parties that’s unfair and does a disservice to their efforts to stand up to the bully in the playground. Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein wrote a great piece on this very issue: “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lets-just-say-it-the-republicans-are-the-problem/2012/04/27/gIQAxCVUlT_story.html. And the Guardian just posted this comment on the subject: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/11/false-equivalence-balance-media.

    Again, to be clear, I agree generally with your point (I know you are familiar with my politics from my FB posts) but I do think it’s unfair to call out the many who are doing their best to represent their constituents and serve the larger national interest.

    Just a few points to add to the discussion!

    Yours respectfully,

    Comment by legaleaglewarrior | October 11, 2013 | Reply

    • I accept your chide. And … this might be a first: being chided for not being Left *enough*!! I certainly didn’t intend to create that false equivalence, as I frequently shout at a screen, TV- or computer-, for the “both sides do it” crowd to pipe down already… but it looks like I might have created it, just the same.

      With regard to the idea that there may be people in Congress who are actually doing their darn jobs… well, let’s just say I voted for Ms. Warren and I’m still pleased I did…

      Comment by rhammerton1 | October 11, 2013 | Reply

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