I am working on a play about President Clinton and the recent shutdown inspired me to go back to the Gingrich - Clinton standoff in the shutdown of 1995-1996 (a two part shutdown as this current one will do doubt be). Washington was thick with gossip and snow. Three feet fell on the 21st day of the shutdown, 6 January 1996 and it was like Winter's Tale. Bars emptying for snowball fights, cross country skiing past the White House, people falling in love in line at Safeway nabbing the last diet cokes. Rumors of epic stand-offs in the course of the negotiations.
Washington is bipolar. If you are good, your polar opposite is bad. All perception exists within this narrative. The narrative of being at war with the bad guys. Except the bad guys are not the bad guys. They are you. We are all Americans. We all want to live in a prosperous and fair country. We all say we want peace. Yet all our human virtues, all the longings of our spirits, all the goodness in our vast expansive souls is crammed down into an identity as a Democrat or an identity as a Republican. And all that energy we get from our universe or our gods to express our love of justice - that is shrunken down to campaign donations.
The thing about the shutdowns is they are in some way, not even a conscious way, but in some way, they are a collusive distraction to the populace. Because we get concerned about a shut down without questioning the government that is being shut down. The list of agencies, councils, tribunals, marketing arms, commissions, subsidies - the list is equally bloated by both parties in the Faustian pact that is killing democracy. Besides the courts, the state department and the armed forces (things expressly considered in the constitution) we have a huge list that essentially constitutes business or cultural subsidies to donors. Quid pro quos.
But everyone needs to get elected, and everyone needs donations, in fact, that is the first thing they tell someone interested in running for Congress - get out there and beg for money. It is a deeply ingrained culture of supplication to power. And so the power remains, and the Rs and the Ds carve up the districts in complicated deals (that involve creating more donor subsidies), and the system is in so much stasis, it is so glued down and unfree, purely the functionary of capital markets. The R's and the D's are like two identical massive nearly dead coral reefs next to each other in some vast sea, and when a tiny fish swims by, when an anemone pokes its head up, it is very exciting because even though it is just a tiny thing, at least it is some change, something to look at. But the coral reefs don't change or move.
No one in Washington has the distance or the perspective (and many are too arrogant to listen to critical reasoning) to recognize the mass bipolar disorder. So who can bring balance? Can the voters bring balance? Not with pre-decided districts and purchased elections. And not with money. So many lovely people I know in Washington truly believe the answer is to give more money to their chosen democratic candidate. If I said that in the context of my individual bipolar - like, say, I need to barricade myself in a suite at George V and drink only vintage Champagne - they would make me take anti-psychotics. Yet that seems a perfectly normal thing to say.
There is no difference between the Rs and the Ds on perpetual war, on the bloated intelligence budget, on the subsidization of capital markets, on the rule of the banks, on the secret courts, on the surveillance of the populace. Neither party dares for any real districting reform. Both just want to afford a nice retirement in a post-Citizens United world. The insiders are very wealthy. Have you been to Washington lately? It is getting more and more like Capitol City in the Hunger Games.
Are the voters without power completely? Is the transfer to a plutocracy in service to capital markets complete? I fear it might be. I live in Europe. I don't know. (At this point I am tempted to say please wake up, we are all living in police states but there is also an untreated American-Terrorist bipolarity that prevents me) But the next time the government is being shut down, just wonder if in fact you are being distracted. Distracted by the theater of an old West showdown with a winner and a loser. And ask yourself what you are being distracted from. Crippling wealth inequality, continuing environmental degradation, countries bankrupting themselves buying arms. And try not to be distracted by the Great Distractors of American Politics, those topics that somehow have culturally consumed your love of justice, your love of virtue, your love of America, your passion. That great love has been condensed down into the sticky residue of abortion, gun control, health care: our flashpoints. It does none of us any service to dwell in these flashpoints - we have a government with a chronic, infectious mental disorder, and we must work together in new ways to rebalance our poor mad leaders.