So. I have this friend.
My friend is furloughed since yesterday. She’s currently sitting at home, catching up on movies and cleaning her kitchen, collecting no pay. From what she’s told me, she can’t work, with or without pay. She won’t get retroactive pay when the shutdown is over, either, unless Congress agrees on that, and we’ve all seen what expecting Congress to agree on something gets you these days. She’s certainly not collecting overtime or time-and-a-half or getting any other special treatment.
If I asked you to guess what my friend does for a living, what would you guess? Crop inspector for USDA? Park ranger? NOAA scientist?
None of the above – she’s civilian support for the US military, and as it turns out, she’s in the half that doesn’t get to work. Again, not even without pay.
Meanwhile, there are people around her, as there are people around me, whose true colors have finally come out. Apparently, as long as my mail gets here and Social Security checks keep going out, I shouldn’t be bothered about programs that help people worse off than me shutting down, or about friends and acquaintances I have, and their friends and acquaintances, who work in positions that now, temporarily, don’t exist.
Those people can, in the words of an acquaintance, “cry [him] a fucking river.”
I’ve encountered such glittering innumeracy and such pseudocontrarian* a-pox-on-both-their-houses bullshit in the last day and a half that it finally overcame my usual cynicism when it comes to people’s knowledge of political realities and their ability to separate fact from story – wheat from the tares, as it were.**
Basically, I knew a lot of people who are otherwise intelligent and good are in this field idiots, but not the breadth and depth of that idiocy. In the last thirty-six hours I’ve plumbed farther into that than I probably ever should have cared to do. I’ve seen more metaphors about Congress as a whole being made up of kids and suggestions for “the first 535 layoffs” and stupid suggestions for how to reduce the size of the federal government than I have time or inclination to enumerate, especially as I live in fear of people finding out that I’m letting the cat out of the bag the moment I get home.
I’m not even including the Republican guy who called C-SPAN to proclaim that the Affordable Care Act, which was voted on more than once in Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court, was “snuck in.” Until I realized that I was smelling the remnants of smoke from the blackened chicken I’d made for dinner, I honestly thought it was the scent of neurons breathing their last and, mercifully, burning out.
If you do think that both parties, Democrats and Republicans, are equally to blame here, I can’t help you. My only encounters in this vein have made me certain that people who think this way aren’t looking at the facts objectively, but through more-independent-than-thou-colored glasses and with no awareness of the fact that such a view is actively encouraged by the GOP.***
This crowd usually describes the situation like this: “Congress is a bunch of spoiled kids.” I submit that, actually, Congress is made up of a bunch of spoiled kids whose parents have repeatedly refused to punish them no matter how many tantrums they’ve thrown or how often they’ve called their parents names, but in fact rewarded them, and a bunch of adults that are insufficiently empowered to deal with those spoiled kids – so, basically, teachers**** – who among themselves can’t decide how to work with the kids, and as a result, they haven’t been able to present a unified response.
Now the kids have decided that they’re tired of the adults in the room not letting them have everything they want, rather than ninety-five percent of it, and brought down the school on that basis. The teachers grow a spine and start actually pushing back on the kids’ terrible behavior, and the response from the people standing around and watching this all happen is, of all things, to say that the kids may be terrible, but the teachers suck for not somehow spontaneously developing the leverage to stop the kids from exhibiting the behavior in the first place.
. . . hold on a second. I feel like I’m on to something here.
* I’d call it legitimately contrarian, but I think treating “both sides do it” as the absolute narrative gives contrarianism a bad name. People who think this way aren’t arguing against a point for the hell of it. They’re ignoring reality because it makes them feel “cooler” to be on the outside of the party system.
** You might argue that this puts in doubt whether I’m really, philosophically, a cynic at all. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you if you did.
*** Oddly, if you make the case that the parties are basically acting in collusion here, I’m okay with that. No, I still don’t agree with you, but it’s closer to what I think the truth is than the “both parties are acting like spoilt children” meme.
**** Heeeeeeyooooooooooooooooo. I used to think that people should listen to teachers on politics, because our view of practical psychology is damn near unrivalled – we have to figure out how to get people to do things, or not do things, and make them think it was their idea all along. But after a day or two, it has become clear that even some people in this profession couldn’t tell their ass from a sinkhole with both hands and an illustrated dictionary.