Gridlock by Venessa Bowers, MSW, LCSW


Over the course of the eight days, I have been watching the news coverage about the United States Government shutdown. The longer I watch it, the more compelled I feel to “diagnose” the underlying dysfunction.  As a therapist who works with children, I see the “reasons” for the government shutdown put forth by the “talking heads” on both sides as similar to what happens on school playgrounds all over the country when bullies are challenged and no adult is present to mediate the impasse of conflicting notions of “rightness.”

Please don’t get it twisted. I think BOTH sides are acting like tantruming children. Even though I am an unapologetic liberal who fundamentally believes that the Affordable Care Act is an excellent idea that has yet to be realized for the millions of Americans who are uninsured, I can and still do believe that how it works needs to be fleshed out in a concrete manner. But here’s the thing. The Affordable Care Act is a LAW that was constitutionally upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. That’s the point. It’s a LAW.

So back to the analogy of the school playground: when children play tether ball on the playground, the goal is to keep hitting the ball until the string wraps around the pole proclaiming the winner of the game. Sometimes, someone hits the ball super hard and it smacks another kid in the face. First, the child that was hit cries, because let’s face it – that hurts. But then, and here’s the rub, that child has two choices to make: either get very angry and start a brawl that will make everyone lose the rest of recess OR consider that it was just a happenstance of the game and make it up with the other child so everyone gets to stay “free” to continue playing.

This shutdown is like a tether ball game. The Affordable Care Act was passed when the House of Representatives was controlled by Democrats (they hit the ball until the rope wrapped around the pole). Then, the smack in the face came to the Republican Party when President Obama was re-elected for a second term. I argue that by putting forth a candidate who could not win, they hit themselves in the face with the ball. However, instead of accepting the fact that the President was re-elected and that the Affordable Care Act is law, the Republicans, and more precisely, a small group of the most extreme Republicans in Congress, started a brawl. The result? We all lose our recess. What does recess look like? Well, for one thing, death benefits to military families who have had loved ones killed in action since October 1, 2013 will not be paid. National parks and monuments are not open to the public. The Centers for Disease Control are closed. WIC programs cannot help women and children living below the poverty line, and on it goes.

The way I see it, a kindergartener (Freshman Senator, Ted Cruz, a republican from Texas) picked a fight with high school seniors. But the shock of the kindergartener’s over reach stumped the high school seniors for a while because they relied on the notion of “seniority” to will out the crazy rantings of a little boy. What the Democrats miscalculated is that because the Republicans have weak leader and are fighting amongst themselves, and no one in that party has put the little boy in a time out, there is a house divided against itself and we know, that one of those can’t stand – at least that’s what the last great Republican President, Abraham Lincoln said. And then, there’s the issue of the Democrats passing a law that did not go into effect for two years. They’ve not done a good job educating the public about how this law will work FOR them.

That said, however, it appears that the Democrats, while standing up to a little bully, also have weak leaders because everyone is blaming the other and NO one is looking for a solution for the 800,000 federal employees who are furloughed because of this insanity. It is costing $300 million each DAY that the government is shut down. I’m no accountant, but that does not sound like a good way to cut spending. It certainly isn’t a way to balance a budget. And that’s the next crisis. What of the debt ceiling? If that is not increased, the United States will default on their debt for the first time since the 1700s. Is that a good plan? What will that do to the global and domestic economy? I shudder to think about it. So should we all.

We have a weak President at the moment. I am loathed to say that, but it is the truth. The President needs to stand up and push the Congress to do their jobs. He needs to find people who can make the deals and solve the issues. Where are the “advisors?” Where are the adults on the playground? Who is going to break up the brawl? Who is going to put the kindergarteners in time out? Who is going to clean up the bloody noses?

I think, perhaps, it is going to have to be us – all the other kids who lost recess because of this gridlock. We’re going to have to step up and write to our representatives explaining our embarrassment about their behavior. We are going to have to vote for people in the future who are public servants and not politicians. We are going to have to seek out adults to lead our government.

I am embarrassed by this gridlock. I cannot even begin to imagine what other nations think of us at this time. A few words come to mind though: weak, leaderless, small. Are we inviting even bigger bullies to take a shot at the nation because we cannot get our own house in order? I fear that we are. And then…


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