What Government Does

I’m tired, but can’t sleep, so got up to see if the government has shut down yet.

The Houston Chronicle wasn’t too much help. Sorry to be a grouch, but perhaps the above-the-fold color photo on the homepage of the website 30 minutes before the government is going to shut down should be something with a bit more actual relevance to the world:

Screen grab at 10:52 on 9/30/13.

Screen grab at 10:52 on 9/30/13.

I have a few things to say about this:

Ted Cruz has now changed his mind about taking a salary during a shut-down, and says he’ll donate his salary to charity. I hope any charity to which he might make a donation turns it down. People like Ted Cruz have cut, cut, and cut again. They have enacted policies that increase the burdens on those least able to bear them, then cut further so that agencies who help the least have had to make do with crumbs.

All the charity in the world wouldn’t make up for the harm Ted Cruz has done and will continue to do by being an ideological terrorist, holding the business of our United States hostage to his political ambition.

A friend works as a federal public defender. Her office has already weathered major budget cuts. Some staff were let go; funds available to help the remaining attorneys provide an adequate defense for their clients were drained. They “got” unpaid time off. And they’re about to go through another round of more of the same, when more of the same might pretty much wipe out their ability to do their jobs.

Texas blowhard Rep. Blake Farenthold made the comment on a cable talk show, Politics Nation with Al Sharpton, that, if government workers don’t get their checks on time because of a government shutdown, that it isn’t really a big deal. First, he says, they’ll eventually be made whole once everything gets cleared. Two, he says with a wink and a nod, going without pay for some period of time will actually be enjoyable:

It’ll basically be a paid vacation.

It will basically be a paid vacation.

Listening to Farenthold say that reminded me of Clayton Williams suggesting that women who realized that a rape was inevitably going to happen just lay back and enjoy it.

Clayton Williams, you ask?

Exactly, Blake.

Those federal workers may eventually get paid, but irreparable harm is being done in the meantime. This is about more than pay. It is about, at heart, just what we expect our government to do.

The federal public defender service doesn’t exist to deliver paychecks on a biweekly basis to a select group of lawyers.

It exists because our Supreme Court determined that a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to a lawyer, provided by the state if the defendant cannot provide for one. Gideon v. Wainwright was the case, 50 years ago.

Now, you can say that the poor, and especially those accused of criminal acts, don’t deserve to use your hard-earned tax dollars to pay for a lawyer. Say it all you want, but the matter has been decided, and if you were in that position, you’d want a lawyer. You’d need one in order to get the due process of law we promise everyone will get.

I would submit, furthermore, that few things are so in line with the spirit of our founding fathers, and the very Constitution itself, than the right to counsel.

Imagine yourself in revolutionary times, a working-class colonist facing the behemoth British monarchy. You have to admit, if you are being honest, that the right to the assistance of counsel when facing THE SYSTEM seems exactly in line with the kind of protection from tyranny the founding fathers were all about.

So, maybe a federal public defender here and there has to dip into savings, if savings are still there after the last round of cut-backs and furloughs, not to miss a mortgage payment. Not to get stung by a higher interest rate on a credit card. To keep paying the service providers who depend upon that federal public defender. Maybe, too, the paralegal who is now supporting four attorneys instead of just two manages to negotiate for a few more penalty-free weeks on the mortgage as well. Maybe they get to go see a movie or catch up on Breaking Bad during their furlough.

But while they juggle funds, hope they can hang on, and “enjoy” their “paid vacation,” their clients are sitting in jail without representation. Their cases aren’t being defended. Investigators aren’t conducting interviews with potential witnesses. Research isn’t happening.

The work of the constitution—the very document these gasbags keep babbling about—is being put on hold so that the party of Take My Toys & Go Home can posture, pontificate, and prevaricate.

Our government doesn’t look the same as it did 225+ years ago because our country doesn’t look the same. We’re bigger. We’ve got many more people whose livelihoods depend on a much more sophisticated infrastructure. You don’t get to control what your tax dollars do or don’t pay for, and you have never had that right, except to the extent you express it via your vote in a democratic election process.

Governance and leadership are about slow, sometimes painstakingly slow, consensus and compromise. There are checks and balances. You have the right to bear arms, true, but that right should and can be well-regulated. If we lived in a perfect world, Ted Cruz and his ilk could insist upon ideological purity, but we don’t. We never will.

I’d say that the behavior of Ted Cruz and his cronies is like a child pitching a fit in a grocery store, but that’s not entirely accurate. It is like a child pitching a fit in the grocery store that causes the store to shut down altogether so that no one can get what he or she needs, and people go hungry. 

It is time for all of us to put on our big kid pants and realize that leadership is about making the system work, not grinding it to a halt. Sometimes, making it works means you don’t get your way.

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One Response to What Government Does

  1. Marie A says:

    Amen. Amen.

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