Government Shutdown Provides An Opportunity to Discuss Which Departments We Need and Don't Need


Well it happened. October 1 hit and we had our 18th federal government “shutdown” since 1976. I put “shutdown” in quotations because as I’m sure we all know by now, the federal government doesn’t really shut down.

Some cheered, others acted like it was some sort of national tragedy. Many shrugged their shoulders and said, “Meh, Washington’s stupid. What’s for dinner?”

There isn’t much else I can add to what hasn’t already been said by now, but personally, I would hope this recent turn of events would spark a national conversation about what departments are really needed in federal government and which ones are a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.

Now some would hear that and cry, “Anarchist! How dare you even think such a heretical thought! Washington needs every single tax dollar and every single department it spends them on and I’ll be damned if you touch anything that would change that!” (With arbitrary stories about the children, elderly, homeless, and so on.)

And of course, others believe we should just “blow the whole thing up,” which I’ll be the first to admit is impractical and probably based more on emotion that any type of logical thought.

Some have even gone so far as to say the Tea Party and/or Republicans’ real goal is to “end government altogether,” and thus Washington does not negotiate with “terrorists.” Seriously? I’ve never heard a single Tea Party supporter or Republican claim this. Simply restoring government to its constitutionally-defined limited roles and powers is not the same thing as “ending government,” so quit the drama and absurd charges.

The truth is every department in Washington could use a top-down overhaul and have an independent auditor go over their books to figure out what’s needed and what’s not. I don’t understand why that’s so difficult to accomplish or unreasonable to agree with.

I would even go a step further and ask what roles do the Departments of Education, Energy, Commerce, Labor and Housing & Urban Development need to fulfill in the 21st century? No, that’s not a crazy question. Many of these responsibilities are redundant bureaucracy that state and local governments already cover, and are relics leftover from an era in the early 20th century where populists got carried away and were creating new departments left and right for anything they could come up with. And yes, even federal departments can become outdated and unnecessary (and it’s OK to say that!).

But I doubt we’ll ever have this desperately needed conversation on the national stage. Most people who don’t pay attention to these matters will continue to not pay attention because they’re turned off by how “ugly” and “mean” politics are. So we’ll be left with the same partisans who will merely dig in to their side, blame each other and won’t be adding any new voices to the fray to move the chains in one direction or another.

But most importantly, this is why you have to get involved. Yes politics is mean and ugly, and yes this means standing up to partisan bullies who will push you around if you don’t agree with them 100%. This especially means voting in primary elections where typical voter turnout is abysmally low (I can tell you it was less than 25% in Illinois for both 2010 and 2012). Because if you’re not there supporting rational, reasonable voices from Day 1, the partisans will take over (and I count both far right conservatives who are trying to stop a health care law that they can’t win enough elections to repeal as well as a president who refuses to cut a single dollar of federal spending or negotiate with a Congress that’s not in full control by his own party – unlike his predecessors like Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton). They have taken over, and we’re left with the dysfunction we have in Washington today that the rest of us now accept as the new “normal.”