Weekend Shutdown Reader: Lest We Forget

By James Fallows

I hope and pray this is almost over, and while it's ending I direct your attention to today's trenchant column by Ross Douthat. But on other fronts... 

1) Lest we forget: geography. A reader based in California (and now in China) sends these maps:

I’ve appreciated your ongoing emphasis on the need to focus on the tiny group of members of Congress, who like most of the others, represent safe districts where they needn’t bother hearing a contrarian word. I thought that you might appreciate these two maps, one of them brought to me this week by Richard Florida in The Atlantic.

Map of the places whose representatives brought us the shutdown (New Yorker):

Where America’s Inventors Are (uses metro areas rather than congressional districts)

Now you’re off with your wife on this voyage across America finding that innovation isn’t always certified by patents, but I think that the relative lack of overlap in these maps is revealing. A minority of Americans seems committed to a past that never quite existed and hopes for a future that seems rather unlikely. I think a third map indicating districts which receive more in federal support/investment than they contribute might look a bit more like the suicide caucus map than the innovation map.

2. Lest we forget: the damage still being done. From a reader who works on a military base in the western half of the country:

I’ve been reading your readers’ comments on the shutdown with great interest.  Unfortunately, in my opinion the (totally justified) focus on the catastrophic consequences of a debt ceiling breach has distracted both the media and the public of the less-dramatic but still very damaging consequences of the shutdown. 

I’d also like to call your attention to the hardships that have already been caused by the sequester, which has gotten even less attention.  I’ve had the opportunity to watch all of this up close, because both my husband and I work for a hospital on a military base.  The sequester has already hampered our work a great deal.

 I work with military families, and our clinic has been slowly ground down by inadequate staffing, particularly to our administration staff.  We’ve all gotten countless complaints from parents that can’t get through to their clinicians on the phone, can’t get appointments scheduled, etc.  Most of the providers (including me) are giving out our direct line numbers now, which is not very efficient, but patients/families in a crisis have to be able to get ahold of us.  Our providers (with a couple of exceptions) weren’t subject to the one-day-a-week furloughs over the summer, but our administration staff was, which made a bad situation even worse. 

Several of our administration staff were furloughed again after the shutdown, though they are back at work now.  One of them is a single parent, and her family has been in very perilous financial circumstances.  Another is married to another DOD worker, who is still furloughed.  They have 3 children.  I have no idea how they are managing.  All of we providers are living in fear that one of our patient families will have a crisis that we won’t find out about until it’s too late and someone is damaged or dead.  The people we work for are families that have already been through terrible times because of the impact of the wars and deployments.  They don’t deserve to have their care disrupted too. 

The nation made a commitment to the soldiers when they enlisted that they and their families would get good-quality health care.  None of us knows when we’ll be paid again (we did just get paid, but have been told not to expect anything after that until this is settled), and I’ve seen some Republicans in Congress saying the people who have been furloughed shouldn’t get paid, which is an atrocity as far as I’m concerned.  We’re all still working, and making gallows-humor jokes, but you can’t expect people to keep working indefinitely for no pay. 

There have already been some resignations from the hospital staff, and the local economy is hurting because we’re all cutting back on our spending.  The Republicans claim to be the champions of the military, but they are the ones responsible for all of this.  The fact that they started this because they found the idea of millions of people being able to get health care appalling is almost beyond belief.  Several of us have privately said to each other that they should be tried for treason.

If you choose to publish this, please don’t use my name.  I don’t want someone to read this and think I am criticizing my co-workers or hurting the reputation of my clinic or hospital.  We are doing the best we can under very difficult conditions.

In the same vein, this past week in California I interviewed a major figure in the state's—and therefore the nation's—tech economy. What effect was the government turmoil having on research projects?, I asked him. "It will be an integrative effect, like pouring sand on a fire," he told me. "For a while, it doesn't do anything. The question is how long it goes on." He also stressed that this month's problem, the idiotic shutdown, was less troublesome than the possibility that "the sequester" would become the long-term baseline. 

3. Lest we forget: PLA edition. An item in Foreign Policy (partial-paywall) highlights one of many bits of self-inflicted strategic damage:

Some of China's most influential military thinkers and policymakers -- including several general officers -- were due to come to the United States next week for a series of long-arranged meetings at the U.S. Army War College, followed by private discussions at some of Washington's more prominent think tanks.... 

But on Wednesday, the Army said it had to cancel the meetings because the funds to host the Chinese had dried up. ...

There are more dramatic stories generated by Congress's inability to fund the government: preschools closed, fighter pilots grounded, code-breakers twiddling their thumbs, oil pipelines left uninspected, grieving families unable to visit their sons who have died in battle. Compared to these human tragedies, America's diplomatic missteps can feel inconsequential. But they do change, if only subtly, how America is perceived in the world. 

"When you have situations like this when you cancel trips -- especially on very, very short notice -- it diminishes America's credibility with a country that still casts a wary eye on America's intentions," said Jonathan Pollack, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. 

4. Lest we forget: WW II edition. A reader in the Pacific mentions an upcoming ceremony to honor the four surviving members of Jimmy Doolittle's bombing raids 70 years ago:

Let's hope the government shutdown ends before this event is scheduled to take place. It would be arguably worse than denying WWII veterans the opportunity to visit their memorial, since there are only four Doolittle Raiders still alive.

 

5. Lest we forget: the people who did this. Specific people decided that their demand to undo legislative history was worth the disruption and loss for everyone else. As I mentioned when the shutdown was young, these legislators enjoyed a roughly 8-million-to-one multiplier effect: each of them had effects on a vastly larger number of fellow citizens. Let's review who did this:

John Boehner (for being too frightened of the hardliners to bring a "clean" budget bill for a vote); Eric Cantor (by extension); Ted Cruz (fill in the blanks).

Plus the cast of House GOP hardliners: Justin Amash, Michele Bachmann, Marsha Blackburn, Mo Brooks, Paul Broun, John Carter, John Culberson, Ron DeSantis, Scott DesJarlais, Jeff Duncan, John Fleming, Scott Garrett, Phil Gingrey, Louis Gohmert, Tom Graves, Vicky Hartzler, Tim Huelskamp, Jim Jordan, Steve King, Raul Labrador, Tom Massie, Tom McClintock, Mark Meadows, Randy Neugebauer, Matt Salmon, Mark Sanford, Steve Scalise, Dave Schweikert, Steve Stockman, Marlin Stutzman, Randy Weber, Ted Yoho. 

Remember them.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/10/weekend-shutdown-reader-lest-we-forget/280535/