It's been just about a week since the federal government shut down. And as obnoxious as the whole thing is, I have to admit it's had almost no effect on my life.
I don't work for the federal government or an entity that's funded by it. I don't have kids whose Head Start programs were temporarily shuttered (or any kids for that matter). I don't rely on food stamps, receive benefits as a military veteran, or depend on medical assistance as a refugee. And I don't really have the time to visit national parks or landmarks — like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s boyhood home — on anything resembling a regular basis.
Really, the only disturbance has been that gnawing sensation of embarrassment that results from living in a country that's completely dysfunctional. If this was an after-school special, I'd be the kid who's always looking for excuses to spend the night at someone else's house because Mama's on a bender, except I'm not allowed to sleep elsewhere because my passport is expired and there's nothing I can do about it because my drunk mom happens to be the one who runs the passport office. Oh, and then there's the blinding rage associated with exposing oneself to any Georgia-centric coverage of the shutdown.
For instance, an Oct. 3 piece that ran in the Atlanta Business Chronicle entitled "Georgia Poll: Shutdown Dems' Fault." A poll of 1,000 registered voters revealed that 32.6 percent blame President Barack Obama for the shutdown and 38.8 percent blame the Republican-controlled House. But an additional 13.3 percent blame the Senate, in which Democrats comprise a majority, so all in all, Georgia voters think Washington Democrats are more culpable for Congress failing to approve a budget so the government's wheels wouldn't grind to a halt. Huh. Well, that's an interesting conclusion for people to come to, isn't it? Especially considering the shutdown was engineered by Republicans and everyone knows it.
See, 80 lawmakers — four of whom hail from districts in Georgia — signed a letter urging House Speaker John Boehner to defund Obamacare even if it meant shutting down the government (and even though the Affordable Care Act had become law through democratic process and was subsequently upheld by the Supreme Court). Even that dastardly devil Karl Rove thought this was a shitty course of action. Alas, Boehner kowtowed to this relatively small faction of far-right-wing Republican congressmen and women, heretofore known as the "suicide caucus."
Polls and statistics only tell half of the infuriating story. The New York Times visited northwest Georgia's 14th congressional district — represented by Republican Congressman Tom Graves, whose Defund Obamacare Act "set the table for the partial government shutdown" — for anecdotal evidence of Georgians' attitudes. Man-on-the-street interviews with a gun-store owner and a forklift operator introduce us to a subset of Georgians who think Graves' "backing down" (i.e., attempting to compromise) would be tantamount to committing political suicide. An 82-year-old antique store owner blamed Obama's dogmatism for the quagmire: "He wants his way and no other." The absurdity reaches its zenith when the Times asks Jon Tripcony, a Dallas, Ga., surveyor, if he had a "better idea for a system to provide health care at a fair price."
"I think it should be the same for everybody," he told the newspaper. "One big company, whether owned by the government or private."
Writes the Times: "Informed that he had described the single-payer system that Mr. Obama abandoned when Republican critics called it socialized medicine, he said, 'Yeah, I know, it's crazy.'"
Hold on, now. What do you know? And what's crazy? That the Republican representatives you voted into office vehemently opposed an idea you favor, but that you've still found a way to blame your displeasure on Obama? You're right. That is crazy, man.
In rural Georgia, just a few dozen miles northwest of Atlanta, the gap between perception and reality has become so vast it's begun to swallow the truth whole. If it seems like the people who elect these congressmen exist in an alternate universe, they sort of do. Through the magic of gerrymandering, districts like Georgia's 14th — where Graves won 73 percent of the vote in the 2012 election — have grown whiter as the rest of the country grows more racially diverse. The Republican Party has grown more popular in these districts while the opposite is true nationally. (A steady diet of Fox News, which prefers to call the governmental shutdown a "slimdown," doesn't help either.) Scattered across the United States are all these little Bizarro United States. And unfortunately, their populaces are represented by 80 congressmen who mustered enough clout to hold the country hostage until they get their way.
So for now, we wait. Someone will blink first and government dysfunction will return to normal levels, and rural right-wingers will go on believing that this was all the black president's fault. Because their districts are tailor-made to stay Republican, elected officials like Graves and other members of the "suicide caucus" will get re-elected provided they try hard to do absolutely nothing. And then we just have to wait a week or so until their attention turns to another avoidable, manufactured crisis.
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