As increasingly bizarre as January's partial government shutdown seems to get with each passing day of federal furloughs and unpaid employment, no one in the grandstand can naively claim that this is their first rodeo. Indeed, over the last four decades, combinations of governmental inaptitude have risen to this kind of "Wild West" anarchy no less than 10 times.
On one hand, the Reagan administration alone struggled with a total of eight shutdowns (though none lasted more than a short week) when executives and legislators momentarily refused to compromise on issues ranging from the fairness doctrine to MX missile funding. At the same time, White House leadership supplied by Democrats has not exactly been immune from budgetary stupidity.
During the Clinton administration, there were two full government shutdowns during 1995 and 1996 lasting five and 21 days, respectively, based on disagreement on whether to cut government services. And, of course, the slugfest that ultimately led to the passage of "Obamacare" was only resolved after a 16-day government shutdown in October 2013.
And yet a well-documented legacy of blunder and shortsightedness is not exactly a badge of honor. Nor does it justify a reckless standard of civic behavior, as if irrational brinkmanship is simply the necessary juice required to transform constitutional theory into brass-knuckled policy and politics.
Furthermore, dismissing the ongoing train wreck (i.e., Friday marked the 35th day of the partial shutdown, the longest closing in the nation's history) as business as usual would certainly be damning with faint praise. Whether you're a diehard wall warrior or a wooden accountant who believes the payroll always comes first, few in Washington's embarrassing mob see the situation as just another pick-up round of barnyard barrel-racing and steer-wrestling.
Besides its historical longevity and current lack of decisive promise, the great shutdown of 2019 is set to go down in the books big time, thanks to stubborn, power-drunk personalities and players the likes of Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi.
Additionally, I think this troubling impasse will long be remembered in parts because of certain economic ironies, ironies such as impressive stock market strength in the midst of widespread political paralysis and the highest level of national employment seen in more than 50 years.
Even though headlines this month have tragically flagged sad consequences of sidelined federal employees (e.g., food shortages, unpaid mortgages, delinquent bills), there are clearly substantial pockets of jobs across the country begging to be filled, important positions in agricultural and construction. Alas, sluicing pools of unemployment within practical reach of meaningful jobs has been a perennial challenge of history.
And I clearly don't mean to sound like the reincarnation of Henry Clay Frick's HR director. Even my turnip truck knows enough to avoid potholes separating a furloughed FDA scientist outside of Alexandria, Virginia from a hide-pulling position in Cactus, Texas. Still, odd times (can they get any odder?) often call for the oddest of reactions.
Maybe that's why I conjured the possibility of the following "want ads," unlikely examples of desperate job seekers otherwise denied more logical and efficient occupation by federal budgeteers who should know better.
(Chicago) -- Will Work for Post-Dated Checks: Quality labor paid now or later, no problem. Impressive resumes supplied, all with unquestionable guarantees from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
(Billings) -- Willing Workers Comfortable With Infrequent Paychecks: Former ranchers turned USDA staffers never expected to get paid more than once a year to begin with.
(Falls Church) -- Furloughed Barbers Will Work for White House Tips: With Oval Office grooming needs at an all-time high, hair-cutting bureaucrats stand at the ready to coif the billionaire president for his daily photo op.
(Muleshoe) -- Retired, Cataract-Free Enumerators Volunteer for Livestock Counts: Hard-working veterans of on-feed data collection, these reconditioned troops make up in sincerity whatever they lack in accuracy.
(Los Angeles) -- Part-Time Stevedores Willing to Guess at Weekly Grain Loadings: Moonlighting members of the Coast Guard take a shot at assessing import and export business. Payment in off-budget grog and salted fish acceptable.
(Flagstaff) -- Laid-off Park Rangers Offer Mountaintop B&B to Host State of the Union Address: Keep the key to the House Chamber hidden, Nancy. Former foresters turn a Grand Canyon podium into an essential service.
Happily, Friday afternoon's breaking news that the government will be reopened for at least three weeks makes these crazy headlines seem even sillier. Please believe me when I emphasize that none of this is meant to minimize the real hardships suffered by government workers at the hands of irresponsible politicians.
But if the country somehow finds itself back in the same listing boat by mid-February, the next batch of want ads could be even more creative with column-inch charges working understandably higher.
John Harrington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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