COLLEGE PARK, Md., October 1, 2013 — If Alexis de Tocqueville really was right that in a democracy people get the government they deserve, then we should celebrate today’s Federal shutdown because we got what we deserved. In that case, Mazel Tov, fellow citizens! Getting what we deserve in any realm of life is unusual but at least we got it in this one.
Painful as it will be to some, the shutdown does have one advantage over the status quo of the past weeks. Our weary nation has been like Antonio in “The Merchant of Venice,” most heartily beseeching the court for a judgment, any judgment, rather than a continuation of the agony of not knowing. Has anyone enjoyed the recent spectacle? Now however we can turn our anger full force in one direction or another. Oh, the joy of retribution!
But before we do haul out the torches and pitchforks, let’s consider the American citizenry’s culpability in all this. President Obama was re-elected fair and square. So was John Boehner and his caucus. What did we expect, a karaoke party? Of course they were gonna be at it.
In recent weeks, each side made pointedly sarcastic mention of the other party’s ignorance regarding Constitution 101. Even if true, that’s not much to be ashamed of. Many people actually remember little of anything they learned in college. A factoid here or there perhaps, like F=MA or vague notions regarding Supply and Demand or the fact that the Magna Carta is English not Italian.
But if anyone did take Constitution 101, among those things they’d still recall the day after their final exam probably would not be that Congress must pass an annual budget.
That’s because it just doesn’t feature all that prominently in the Constitution. Check for yourself. When George, James, Ben and Alex were in Philly writing that delightful little document, ensuring the passage of future budgets wasn’t the top thing on their minds. They’d managed to win a war against the greatest military force in the world without really having one themselves. Things like forming a more perfect union were uppermost in their minds in those days, although it certainly seems we’ve let the boys down in this department.
It’s a pretty pass we’ve come to here in 2013. But fortunately we have me here to predict the future. I predict that there will be backbiting, rabble rousing and deal making occurring simultaneously for a short period of time. Then, the antagonists will emerge with a deal that you and I could have written right here and now, preening like peacocks and congratulating themselves for having saved the union.
Then for the next two election cycles, each side will take a cruise on their party’s showboat, proclaiming victory when they address their respective caucuses even while continuing to spit venom at the other side. Oh, the joy of retribution! What a production it will be!
Get angry if you must. But let it not be because your chosen representatives couldn’t take the other side down. We set it up like that with our votes.
Washington Nationals fans know this feeling viscerally.
But thank you Davey. And godspeed.
Michael Justin Lee from the faculty of finance and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, teaches, speaks and writes at the intersection of global finance and matters Chinese (with occasional tangents off on one or the other). He is the author of “The Chinese Way to Wealth and Prosperity” (McGraw-Hill, 2012). A veteran Chartered Financial Analyst, he served as Financial Markets Expert-in-Residence in the U.S. Department of Labor. He can be followed at www.michaeljustinlee.com
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