More Tales of Shutdown Life

A struggle within one party, damage across the country

Two more accounts. First, from a reader who is a scientist at an East Coast university that is affiliated with a federal research lab. He tells what is different because of the government shutdown:

I wanted to write in to note that your "reader out West" [mentioned here] who is a university employee locked out of his Federal lab, is far from alone.  Plenty of us over on the East Coast are also locked out, and it's tremendously damaging to morale.  Many of us have quite a lot personally invested in our projects, and those of us who conduct experiments are completely unable to continue work.  Yes, the paychecks are still coming, but it's not a good feeling to be at loose ends all day.

Somewhat bizarrely, there was very little warning that our building would close.  All of the contingency planning I was aware of involved operating as we do on Federal holidays — university employees would come to work and keep things moving while the government workers stayed home.  Then, Monday afternoon, the directive came down from somewhere on high that the facility would be closed completely in the event of a shutdown.  I think there's one person allowed in for up to an hour a day to make sure equipment is in a safe state, nothing is catching fire, etc. ... None of this makes any sense — those of us on the university side are fully funded for the moment, and we're still getting paid.  We just want to be allowed back to work.

I'd like to add one more thing. It is fashionable in some circles to dismiss federal employees as overpaid, entitled, slothful bureaucrats. In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The people I support are uniformly very talented scientists who could almost certainly be paid far more in the private sector. True professionals in every sense of the word. We are absolutely sick at not being allowed to simply do our jobs.

Now, from a reader who anticipates a connection I intend to make — real soon now! — between the encouraging developments my wife and I have been trying to chronicle via American Futures and the self-inflicted damage of our national politics of the moment:

Your small town series seems to answer the one question that's an increasing puzzle to me.  Why is the US still the world power it is, in spite of our increasing political disfunction?  Maybe it will turn out that we have so many advantages built up over the years, as explained in the small towns you are visiting, that we have a cushion protecting us from our self-destructive tendencies.

If this is true, it won't last forever.  So the Democrats need to figure out how to combat the anti-government rhetoric that's been building in the Republican world until the underlying demographic changes finally overwhelm the redistricting advantage the Republicans currently enjoy.

What I would do is institutionalize the message that we are increasingly a country where the liberal blue states pay  more and more for the benefit of the more rural red states.  After all, who are the takers?  States like New Jersey or Connecticut, who get way less for each dollar they send to the federal government, or states like Arkansas and Nevada, who get way more than a dollar for each dollar they send to the federal government?

One more point on the shutdown.  My daughter is in her last year at [a major UK university], working on her master's project in psychology.  She's found that the US government research databases that she relies on are all offline because of the shutdown.  Not a big deal, but damned inconvenient when you have a deadline. 
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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