GreenbergRants has been unusually silent for a while, some of you have pointed out. Yes, it’s true. Actually, I’ve been busy working some nice writing gigs that pay real money, while this blog only pays off in allowing me to vent my frustrations with the injustices that we endure in America every day. The latter is actually payment enough in some cases. But trust me when I tell you that I have been hyper-aware of the events unfolding in our nation’s capital over the past 16 days. And trust me when I tell you it all seems eerily familiar.
Way back in 1972 when the Republicans were accused of executing a break-in of the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex, I was a freshman in college. I bought a used 13-inch television set for $45 so that I could watch the nationally televised Watergate Congressional hearings. And yes, you may now add “nerd” to your list of descriptors of me, but even at age 19 I was oddly fascinated by a crime of this magnitude that could possibly have been perpetrated, or at least masterminded by the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. To make a long story short, for those of you who were not yet on the earth at that time, the end result was that top White House officials were forced to resign, and ultimately the President had to step down.
Well, that was a result, but the crisis had much larger implications. Those of us who had not even yet voted in a presidential election were left to sort through our own misgivings about our government. In truth, many of us never again trusted our government in the way that our older siblings or our parents did. We became cautiously cynical about government, and we were pushed hard into the realization that even the most powerful people in the country were flawed and not necessarily immune to the dangerous seduction of power. They were just people like us.
The comparison of the recent 16-day U.S. government shutdown to Watergate is clearly on the minds of others, as well. The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky wrote, “…this has been in its way worse than Watergate. Watergate ultimately vindicated our system against the machinations of one sociopath. It took time, because he was a president. But even he ultimately observed democratic norms and, when cornered, did the honorable thing.”
It gets worse. The Gallup organization released results of a poll this week, stating, “Eighteen percent of Americans are satisfied with the way the nation is being governed, down 14 percentage points from the 32% recorded last month before the partial government shutdown began. This is the lowest government satisfaction rating in Gallup's history of asking the question dating back to 1971.”
By the early 1970s when Watergate happened, young Americans were already disenchanted with the U.S. government, having lived under the cloud of the Vietnam War throughout their youth. When the Watergate story broke, it was almost like the final validation that what we believed about our government’s incompetence was accurate. Still, as Tomasky said, in the end at least there was some closure and some level of satisfaction that the bad guys got caught and were banished.
This time, the bad guys just got up the next morning and went back to what they want us to believe is work. Ted Cruz, the radical right-wing junior senator from Texas, who CNN’s Piers Morgan dubbed “the male Sarah Palin,” (below, right) who tried to lead the charge to defund the Affordable Care Act, is left friendless and pretty much powerless in the Senate, but he’s still standing and back at work. John Boehner, the weepy Speaker of the House is widely held to be a true failure in this battle, but he got up and put on one of his countless navy suits and headed back to work the morning after. Other Republican senators who actually voted against the new deal will have to live with the legacy of trying to prolong the government shutdown, and will likely pay for it at the polls.
But what about us? What about the citizens? We’ve been dealt some major blows here. The morning after the debt deal was finally approved, the big three credit reporting agencies were clearly shaken by the upheaval, and economists were left to wonder if the U.S. credit rating would be downgraded, which means higher interest rates for you and me.
That same morning Chase bank reportedly sent letters to its business banking customers informing them that they would no longer be allowed to make international wire transfers of money. Economists say that when a bank as big as Chase initiates capital controls, it usually means they’re nervous about money leaving the country. Economists also point out that if Chase is doing it, other big banks will do it, too. The banks are experiencing cash anxiety that they will pass on to you and me.
So what’s worse? The short term practical downsides of shutting the government down for 16 days, or the long term emotional and psychological scars? I’d put forth that it’s the latter. I had occasion to speak to a 20-something American during the shutdown, who said this: “I don’t see how any of it matters anyway. I mean it’s just a bunch of old white guys who are into their own shit and not really concerned about me. I mean they always get theirs, man. Right?
Well, he has a point, right? What it tells me is that it doesn’t really matter which party caused this, or which individual Congressmen or women exacerbated the problem. What matters is that once again our elected officials have let their misguided agendas potentially taint an entire generation’s trust level in their own government. That, coupled with the broader worldview of the incompetence of the U.S. Congress has now established 2013 as the year that may just last for several decades.