Mother nature has accomplished what reasonable people cannot: closing our federal government for the week. While our government’s effectiveness remains unchanged—nothing is getting done—at least the majority of pols and pundits are home-bound, awaiting the arrival of a lobbyist to deliver a Honey Baked Ham and shovel their driveways. Meanwhile, we have been granted a respite from the din of weak-kneed incompetence. If the current storm persists, we might even get the Olympics started before the Boehners and Pelosis can spray on their faces and return to the podium. (Maybe we can even get some of those new C-17 cargo planes the Pentagon doesn’t want to haul some snow from DC to Vancouver to finish grooming the freestyle course! Sigh, I digress.)
Reasonable, thoughtful people from many corners of scholarship and journalism are starting to seriously question the future of our government. James Fallows recent essay in The Atlantic, “How America can Rise Again” offers a lengthy survey of America’s strengths and weaknesses. He recounts America’s history of overcoming adversity, but laments that the system that largely enabled those victories is broken today. He argues, “That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke.” He explores a range of options including “an enlightened military coup … a new constitutional convention … a viable third party … [or] hope for another Sputnik moment” to right the ship. In the end, he settles for “muddling through” over “starving the beast” as the best worst choice. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argues in The Nation, “if you want change, you have to change Congress” and solicits readers to sign a “change Congress petition” that calls for a new “Fair Elections Now Act” to subvert the insidious power of lobbyists. Still others, like Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone blame Obama for “ muzzl[ing] millions of followers eager to fight for his agenda” and effectively trading in his “Yes We Can!” pledge for a mockingly “No, we can’t” reality. In the end, what happened to Obama was simply stated by Clinton advisor James Carvelle: “Washington always wins.”
While many, including myself, can easily point at the government to assign culpability, the larger reality is that our government will not and cannot face its problems. Moreover, when you set questions of ideology, capability, and blame aside—turn off Obama’s teleprompter and wash the notes from Palin’s palms—and just look at the numbers, there is no chance our government can sustain its current or future obligations. Absent a series of syzygystic miracles, it will collapse under the weight of its own financial malfeasance. It is time, as Jacob Weisberg argues at Slate, “to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office and start looking at ourselves.” It is time to take the initiative—to quit staring at our government like an infant who has discovered his navel—and take our future back; one person, family, school, and community at a time.