Sunday, October 27, 2013

Talking Peace in the Dark

            If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Sure.

            If the Palestinian and Jewish peace negotiators reach an agreement, and nobody cares to read it, does it make an impact?  Sure.   But I’m not sure the impact would be any more meaningful than the sound of that fallen tree.  

            Now don’t get me wrong; I support the ongoing peace talks.  I support any exercise to bring that conflict to an end, whether it takes place among heads of state, NGOs, or college students.   But let’s not kid ourselves – even on the off-chance that the two governments are ready for peace, I don’t think the two peoples themselves are ready.  I could see the rank and file taking a glance at a signed peace agreement, reading the particulars, and blowing it off with a shrug.   And that’s because, for the past several decades, there has been little trust between the two peoples, and the leaders of their civil societies have made no meaningful effort to bring about reconciliation.  As a result, even if the politicians can somehow miraculously get together on a document, they couldn’t sell it in Hebron or Haifa.  

            Why has there been so little progress in building trust and reconciliation?  I’ve discussed one of the problems in a previous blog post – every time the political types come to the negotiating table, they keep looking for the big, final-status agreement, rather than seeking the kind of incremental accomplishments that over time could produce a truly lasting peace.  Just imagine all the progress we could have made if every round of negotiations in the past few decades had produced at least one tangible, lasting result, rather than simply “ending in failure.”  Alas, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, time seems to be endless, but patience is ever fleeting. 
            Perhaps the more profound problem, however, is that each side has hunkered down behind a very dangerous narrative.  That narrative has, at its core, a rather absurd self-satisfaction.  Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have convinced themselves that they have done everything possible to work for peace and the problem lies entirely in the other camp.  For this sad state of affairs we can thank two powerful tropes – one for each of the combatants.

The Israeli trope is known as the “two state solution.”  With the exception of the fundamentalist fringe on the right and a small group of peaceniks on the left, it is almost universally supported among the Jewish communities in both Israel and America.  Indeed, I consider myself a great advocate of that idea.  So I should be happy that so many of my landsmen agree, right?  

Well … the problem is that, in the Jewish community, the term “two-state solution” has become more flexible than an Olympic gymnast.   Our hard-liners are fine with the Palestinians having their own state – but only if that state includes Jordan.  Oh sure, the hard liners are happy if it also includes the Gaza Strip and even parts of the West Bank.  But they don’t want it to eat up the big Jewish settlements in the West Bank and they certainly don’t want it to include parts of Jerusalem.  

To me, that position is antithetical to the notion of “two states for two peoples.”  I don’t care how many Palestinians currently live in Jordan; that is not the Palestinian state that we are obliged to allow.  Just as the Jews want to live in Israel, not Egypt, the Palestinian people want to live in Palestine – meaning that they want a state that is West of the Jordan River, not East.  When the state of Israel was created by the United Nations, it was never envisioned that the Palestinians would be denied a state within the pre-48 borders of historical Palestine.

Similarly, I don’t believe that Jews can legitimately claim to support two states as long as one of those states is a tiny, serpentine-shaped land mass that is reminiscent of North Carolina’s 12th District or some other product of corrupt gerrymandering.  That’s an offer worthy of Marie Antoinette.    

If my fellow Jews don’t want to give up their huge West Bank settlements, they at least should have the class to admit what their position logically entails: that they oppose the two-state solution.   Once more Jews admit that fact, it will honestly constitute progress – for at least then the hard liners may stop being so complacent that theirs is the path to peace.  Clearly, it isn’t.

As for the Palestinians, their trope is known as “non-violent resistance.”   Armed with that governing principle, West Bank Palestinians have ironically come to be almost completely at peace with their own side’s conduct in this war – or at least with the conduct of the Palestinian Authority/PLO, which has clearly adopted that strategy.  According to the Palestinian narrative, non-violent resistance is the one perfectly moral response to the tyranny of the Israelis, and it ultimately will produce an outcome favorable to the Palestinians by peacefully revealing to the world that Zionism is an antiquated, apartheid and brutal ideology.  

            Believe me, I appreciate the strategy of non-violent resistance compared to the alternative of terrorism.  Any Jew in their right mind would see it as a major step in the right direction.  But the problem is that the centrality of this strategy is such that it is every bit as antithetical to peace as the idea of Jordan as the Palestinian state.  

            Folks, to reiterate what was said above, we need true reconciliation, not new and different strategies for “winning” the war.  We need both sides to appreciate the legitimacy of two viable states within the land known as pre-48 Palestine, one primarily for the Palestinians and the other primarily for the Jews.  The Palestinian obsession with “non-violent resistance” continues to reflect a narrative that the primary way of responding to the state of Israel is by resisting it.  And this in turn tends to reflect a general antipathy toward Zionism and the legitimacy of the Jews’ claim to their own Middle Eastern state.  

Stated differently, by comparing their own movement to that of Ghandi, the Palestinians are acting like the Jews have no greater right to their own state in the Holy Land than the English had to a state in the Indian Subcontinent.  Here’s the problem, folks: the Jews don’t have an island in the North Atlantic to which they can retreat.  Israel is their one and only state.  They’re not giving it up.  And if the Palestinians want a state of their own, they need to deal with that reality and not compare their plight to other victims of colonialism.

            So what can the Palestinians do?  How about take a different tack when Jews ask them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  Today, virtually all Palestinians will tell you that such recognition is “impossible.”  And yet the Palestinians nevertheless see themselves purely as the victims who are doing everything they can possibly do to make peace.  I’m not buying it.

            Then again, I’m hardly buying it when many Jews ask the Palestinians to give up much of the West Bank and become part of another sovereign nation that lies primarily across the Jordan River.   I cannot get over the chutzpah of taking such a hard line position, and then still claiming to support a “two state solution.”   Some peacemakers, huh?  

            And if all that isn’t bad enough, when the two sides come together and talk, they approach the proceedings like a home run derby – either they hit the ball out of the park and reach a final peace agreement, or they make an “out” and go back to square one.

            This is why, if you have kids who are about to enter college and you want them to pick a topic of study that will remain relevant for decades despite the ever-changing nature of contemporary society, you might suggest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It’s one of the few constants in the universe these days.  It makes the Energizer Bunny look like a quitter by comparison.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Washington D.C.'s Other Battle Royale

Some of us were wondering how the Government could shut down over Obamacare when Congress voted for it, the Supreme Court confirmed its constitutionality, and the nation re-elected its “father,” Barack Obama, to the White House.  If America is supposed to be a democratic people who respect the rule of law and who believe that elections have consequences, there should have been no debate: you can’t threaten to shut down the government, let alone undermine it’s good faith and credit, simply because you disagree with Obamacare.   That’s just crazy.

Well, at the risk of seeming equally black-and-white on another issue du jour in Washington, please allow me to pass judgment on the nickname of our capital city’s most beloved sports team.  First, though, let me provide a little context. 

The Washington Redskins, according to Forbes Magazine, is one of the world’s five most valuable sports franchises.  It also happens to be the only one that doesn’t even come close to dominating its sport.  Manchester United (19 English Premier titles) and Real Madrid (32 La Liga titles) tower over professional soccer.  The New York Yankees (27 world series) are by far baseball’s most successful franchise.   The Dallas Cowboys, also known as “America’s Team, are known equally for their five Super Bowls (second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have won six) and their legendary cheerleaders, and have inspired fans throughout the country, not just in its most football crazy state. 
That leaves the Redskins.  Why the hell are they so valuable?  Eight other franchises are every bit as successful, if not more so, in winning Super Bowls.  In the past twenty years, they have made the playoffs only four times, which means that an entire generation of fans has grown up thinking of them as a less-than-average football team.   They play in a lousy stadium in Prince Georges County, Maryland – one of the less affluent parts of the metro DC area.  And that metro area isn’t exactly one of the top few markets in the United States in terms of population.

Why is this relatively nondescript franchise so valuable?   If you ask me, it is because for the longest time, they have been the only team that Washingtonians have truly embraced.  Oh sure, we have a hockey team, a basketball team, now we have a baseball team, and we have multiple college basketball teams that have won national championships in the not-so-distant past.  But for the most part, sports fans in Washington haven’t cared much about them.   Throughout my childhood, while growing up in a suburb of the city, I was struck by the fact that all people really cared about was politics and the Redskins, and I never was quite sure about the order.  Those were the city’s two religions.

I certainly was bitten by the bugs of politics and football – they both have obsessed me for as long as I can remember.  The thing is, though, that it was partially my love for a particular brand of politics (progressive) that made be become not a Redskins fan, but a Redskins’ hater.   OK, hate is a strong word – I don’t wish ill to their players -- but I have always rooted against them.  In large part that’s because I have always thought of them as a right-wing team. 

As recently as 1962, the Redskins fielded an all-white team.  They were the last franchise in the sport to do so, reflecting the unabashed racism of their owner, George Preston Marshall.  A decade later, they came to be associated with two other prominent conservatives – Head Coach George Allen and his buddy, President Richard Nixon, who actually recommended plays that the Redskins should use.   But more than anything else, what made me think of the Redskins as antithetical to my progressive politics was the team’s name and logo.   The name is blatantly racist – imagine if the team was known as the “Blackskins” or “Brownskins.”   The team’s mascot is a face-painted man who wears a war bonnet with feathers and carries a tomahawk.   As for the team’s logo, it similarly displays a red-faced Indian warrior.  For me, to contemplate these images is to remember what it was like to grow up in the 60s, when Native Americans were thought of as primitive people whose lives consisted of riding horses, fighting battles, and if all went according to their plan, removing the scalps of their enemies. Frankly, I might even prefer the image of an all-white football team to that of the stereotypical Indian warrior.

When I think about Native American culture, I’d rather think about other things than their battlefield exploits against the white menace.  I’d prefer to think about their spirituality, which includes not merely a reverence for the transcendent but an unparalleled appreciation for the beauty of nature.  The whole idea of looking at this proud people in terms of war, with all the associations that go with it (e.g., gruesome acts reflecting a fundamental disrespect for human dignity, the use of weapons reflecting a pre-modern relationship to technology), strikes me as the epitome of xenophobia.  There is so much that we all can learn from Native Americans (myself included), but instead we choose to depict them at their most base and least cultivated, and behold their images on football helmets – a place typically reserved for lions, tigers and bears.   Isn’t it enough that we seized their land?  Do we have to think of them as cartoon characters when they should be thought of as teachers?

In 1977, I began a football love affair that has never died.  I became a die-hard fan of Stanford University football.  I almost never miss their games and keep a tiny Stanford helmet on my TV set.  And my love for that program stems in part from their willingness to change their name. When I was in grade school and first watched Stanford play, their team was called the “Indians.”   It wasn’t nearly as racist a name as the “Redskins,” but it was inappropriate just the same, and thankfully the school changed it.  They became the “Cardinals” and later the “Cardinal” -- two boring names, for sure, but they’re a whole lot better than a name that was born of racism and continues to foment ignorance.

As I reflect on all the colleges that have changed their names from those that celebrate the relationship between Native American culture and war, I am struck by the unwillingness of professional sports teams to do the same.  Just look at the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves, and the Chicago Black Hawks.  None of those names are as explicitly racist as the “Redskins,” but I don’t care for them either.  Nor do I enjoy watching their fans do hand gestures like tomahawk chops.  
It’s funny to be a Washingtonian these days when you’re listening to local sports radio and the topic of the Redskins’ name comes up.  All of a sudden, the DJs start talking like a bunch of middle school boys peeing in their respective urinals and making fun of girls.   They just can’t laugh enough at the “political correctness” of anyone who wants the Redskins to change their names.  And they just can’t stop pointing out the “hypocrisy” of anyone who challenges the name “Redskins” but not the names of the other sports teams with Native American themes.

Folks, just because the word “Redskins” is “politically incorrect” doesn’t make it acceptable (see, e.g., the use of the N-word, which is also “politically incorrect”).  As for the argument that “others are doing it so why can’t we,” didn’t we learn by the time we entered high school that that one doesn’t work either?   The Redskins are catching more guff than teams like the Braves and the Chiefs because the name itself is more explicitly racist.  But let’s not also forget the other reason – they play in Washington, D.C., the Nation’s Capital, and politics-obsessed Washingtonians are supposed to take seriously concepts like racism and human dignity. 

If my city wants to celebrate Native Americans, then do so.  But celebrate them for the right reasons – for the way they pray, not for the way they kill.  Leave the killing to the lions, tigers and bears.  Or better yet, change the name to the Washington Snakes – that way, we can capture the political/legal side of the city and select a fierce warrior-image suitable to inspire the team to victory. 
“Washington Snakes.”  It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?  The only problem is that, with so many snakes roaming Capitol Hill and K Street, it will be hard to choose the perfect logo.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Long Live the New Obama

I like this new Obama.   He doesn’t cave in needlessly like the old Obama.  The old Obama would have resolved the Shutdown crisis by now, which is nice, but it would have ended in a brand, spanking new set of concessions to the Republicans.  Given that the Democrats have controlled the White House, the Senate and sometimes even the House during his Presidency, isn’t it odd how much power he has allowed his opponents to wield?

The Republicans like to say that Obama is largely responsible for the Shutdown.   In one sense they are correct; in another, they are wrong.  The new Obama bears no responsibility whatsoever for the Shutdown.  Anyone who would argue differently is either (a) a propagandist for the hard right, or (b) a mindless automaton who takes his or her talking points from the propagandists for the hard right.   The new Obama was given an offer by the Republicans that any rational negotiator cannot help but refuse.  The offer went something like this:  “Admittedly, we have no leverage.  But we’d like major concessions from you nonetheless.”  Crazy, right?  But the old Obama would have jumped at the chance to play ball.   That’s what he did.  He played ball with one and all.  It was like an addiction for him.   Some people like doing drugs, others like having sex, and apparently still others like deal-striking.  Even when the available deals were terrible for his Party, the old Obama struck them.  Then he went before the media and praised the deals, his adversaries, and the process.   The old Obama drove me nuts.

In a way, the old Obama bears some responsibility for this Shutdown.  He fed the beasts so many times that you can’t completely blame them for wanting another meal.  How were they supposed to know that the old Obama would leave the White House and would be replaced by a man who is actually capable of giving “no” for an answer?

Of course, even more than the old Obama, the blame for this Shutdown goes to the beasts themselves.   And even more than the beasts, the blame goes to the American electorate.  They’re the ones who keep figuring out new and different ways to merge un-intellectuality with complacency.  It used to be that we didn’t read quality books; now, we simply don’t read books at all.   It used to be that we were fat-and-happy; now, we’re just fat.

The old Obama obviously forgot the major lesson of the last semi-successful Democratic Administration: when it’s time to legislate, Triangulate!  Back then, we had an Arkansan President who took office after running as a “New Democrat.”  He may have had a Northern wife, but he was a Southern Man, and he was supposedly tired of the same ol’ liberal bromides.  Leaving aside one or two slip-ups (like when he allowed his wife to try to remake the health care system), William Jefferson Clinton governed as the man-in-the-middle.  He could point to Teddy Kennedy on his left and Newt Gingrich on his right, and approach the nation as the guy who was always in touch with the majority of Americans rather than the extremes.  He didn’t have to use rhetoric to paint himself as the moderate – he needed only to watch his ideological opponents on both sides of the aisle flail away on the issues, and then he could swoop down like the savior with the solution.   Not a bad gig if you can get it.

Life has been very different for the old Obama, hasn’t it?   On the left, he’s had … well, he’s had pretty much nobody.   There are actually a number of talented progressives in Congress, but none of them has been able to position him or herself prominently enough with the public to become a feared player in the policy-making arena.  At least when it comes to the critical area of economics, it is difficult to imagine the President encountering the kind of opposition on the left that could seriously impact the national debate, let alone sink one of his proposals.     

By contrast, on the right, the old Obama has found plenty of vocal opponents.  First, there are the traditional Republicans – the guys like Boehner or McConnell who seem to be impassioned about the need for lower taxes on corporations and affluent individuals and are otherwise satisfied with the status quo.   Then, we have the folks who have come to be known as the Wacko Birds, the Teahadists, or the Tea Party Patriots, depending upon your perspective.  They have made it known that they are willing to vote for traditional Republicans in Presidential elections, but only because guys like McCain and Romney are the lesser of two evils.  When it comes to electing lawmakers, they prefer folks who are well to the right of the official Republican leadership, and they are not afraid of threatening to unseat those traditional Republicans if they don’t support Tea Party policies.

For the past few years, the old Obama has negotiated in a Triangulated system, but the problem is that he hasn’t played the role of the Triangulator.  He has ceded that role to the traditional Republicans.  They are the ones who can point to the “socialists” on the left and those crazy uncles (or nephews) on the right.   It is their policies that increasingly have carried the day.

Just look at the way we resolved the debate this past winter concerning the highest income tax bracket.  The old Obama twice ran on the platform that the Bush tax cuts should be repealed for anyone who makes more than $250,000 a year.  Twice, he was elected – and neither election was close.  So what happened?  After the last election, he fought for the position on which he campaigned, the folks on the left sat back and let him carry the fight, and the folks on the right splintered into those who worked like hell to keep the Bush tax cuts and those “moderates” who were willing to repeal them but only for a small fraction of the folks who made more than $250,000 a year.  After all the dust settled, those “middle-class” Americans who earn a mere $450,000 per year have been allowed to pay no more taxes than they paid under Bush.  Progressives like me were furious, because we don’t know how anyone can ask the true middle class to make sacrifices as long as folks making that kind of money aren’t being asked to do so.  But that is the only kind of deal available when the progressive voices are muted, the hard-right voices are amplified, and the President values compromise for compromise’s sake.  

The greatest irony about the Shutdown is that the Democrats are offering the Republicans the opportunity to strike a deal in favor of the Sequestration budget, which is clearly more palatable to the Republicans than the Democrats.  In other words, the new Obama has stood firm that the Republicans must agree to what the old Obama was willing to accept when he was last triangulated.  As luck would have it, however, the Republicans (dominated by the hard-right and mollified by the moderate-right) want more.   It’s like a beggar asking you for $20, causing you to whip out a $10, and then yelling back – “Didn’t you hear me?  I said twenty!”  Something in that message must have awakened Obama, because it allowed him to look at that beggar and say “Excuse me?   I’m the President here, not you.  You’re not getting anything.”   

I realize that the beggar metaphor isn’t the analogy du jour.  The President and many in the media have been comparing the Republicans to terrorist hostage takers.  I can appreciate that analogy, though it fails in the sense that traditional terrorists are often willing to lose their lives for their cause, whereas at the time that the Shutdown began, I’m not sure the Republicans thought they were risking much of anything.  Most of the leaders of this escapade come from safe seats, are supported by huge donors and media outlets, are well acquainted with the old Obama, and had every reason to expect that at worst, the President would ultimately soften his heart and provide them the fig leaf that they needed to fight the next fight.   Even now, after nearly two weeks of shedding their clothes in front of the American public with no apparent fig leaf in sight, the Republicans can feel comforted by the fact that their talking heads are taking to the airwaves and saying things like “No big deal.  These shutdowns happen periodically.  Before long, this one will be forgotten and the GOP will win the mid-terms, like the dissenting Party almost always does.” 

Maybe.  But a lot will depend on which President they face during the next year.  Will we continue to see the new Obama?  Is he going to stop allowing the GOP to play the triangulation card?  Is he going to call their bluff every time they threaten to burn down the village in order to save it?   Or are we going to witness the return of the old Obama?  The Ado Annie Obama – you know, like the girl from “Oklahoma” who “can’t say no.”  Ado couldn’t resist a handsome face.  And the old Obama couldn’t resist a smooth-tongued Republican who spoke respectfully and with the rhetoric of moderation and compromise, even though in substance his program invariably involved taking care of the rich and letting the poor sink or swim on their own.

Hey, Mr. President.  Do you want to know when you’ve got a partner on the GOP side?  When he starts indicating a willingness to increase the upper tax brackets and close those foul loopholes that can only be described as corporate welfare.  At that point, you can begin entertaining suggestions about Medicare and Social Security.  Until then, remember this: those who ask the Middle Class to sacrifice dearly at the same time that they are nominating for President a man who is installing a car elevator in one of his many homes isn’t interested in compromising with you.  They’re interested in playing a game with you.  And it’s called Social Darwinism.

Don’t fall for it.  Make them find their own fig leaf.  And never forget that the nation elected a Democrat, not a sucker.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Reflections on a Week of Furloughs

“I should weep for a workforce of 2.7 million that is overpaid and underworked, does things I do not like or need, and gets laid off for a week or two every 17 years?  I’ll save my tears for the 7.8 million people Obama has squeezed out of the national workforce – permanently.”

“My heart bleeds for these overpaid under worked Gov.t  [sic] workers.  We could probably lt [sic] half of them go.”

            Anonymous comments to an October 2, 2013 article on

            I went to synagogue last night with one primary purpose in mind: to remember and celebrate the life of my father.  As this Shabbat marks the anniversary of his death, I had been looking forward to that magical moment in the Jewish service right before the prayer of mourning where the rabbi announces the names of the individuals whom the congregation is asked to mourn.  The rabbi began reading out the names, but he never did say “Julius Spiro.”   I had to do that myself.    

            This being the week of a Government shutdown, last night was a fitting non-tribute to a man whose occupation could aptly be called “faceless bureaucrat.”  My mother practiced the same occupation.   Between the two of them, they put in roughly 77 years working for the United States Government.   Julius was an economist for the Department of Labor, where he researched such issues as minimum wage laws and handicapped-access provisions.  Evelyn was an economist and statistician for the National Institutes of Mental Health and, later, the Consumer Product Safety Commission.  Neither spoke much to me about their jobs.   Nor do I recall them bringing colleagues into the home to boast about the vital nature of their work.    All that I know is that they made a decent, but not especially large, amount of money, working on projects that they considered to be in the public interest.  In that regard, they were much like the parents of many of my friends growing up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. – highly educated, but relatively anonymous professionals who seemed content with their work, despite the lack of fanfare.  Theirs weren’t the jobs that kids aspire to do when they grow up, but I was proud of my mom and dad just the same.

            The last time I heard the term “faceless bureaucrat” was a few days ago. MSNBC commentator Richard Wolffe was talking about an incident when GOP Rep. Randy Neugebauer berated a federal employee for keeping the public out of a national monument. (Here’s a video of Neugebauer’s antics:  Wolffe was appropriately indignant about the Congressman’s behavior, and I was taken by the words he used to express this indignation.  To the best of my recollection, he suggested that the target of the Congressman’s wrath “wasn’t just some faceless bureaucrat but a park ranger” -- in other words, a woman who is obviously doing a job that the nation needs her to do.  

            I forget how old I was when I learned that neither of my parents had one of those jobs.  Garbage collectors, waitresses, and flight attendants may not be especially well compensated, but at least it is generally recognized throughout the society that they perform useful functions.  By contrast, Julius and Evelyn Spiro received taxpayer dollars doing work that many taxpayers resent having to pay for.  And my parents are not alone.  Littered throughout the Washington, D.C. suburbs is a huge workforce that, according to the commenter quoted above, “is overpaid and underworked, [and] does things I do not like or need.”  

            If you watch MSNBC, you will think that what is going on these days is a “Government Shutdown.”  If you watch Fox News, however, you might think that what is going on is a “Government Slimdown.”  Those words were actually used on that network.  They are a reminder of the fact that the federal government has hardly shut all its doors.  Soldiers, border patrol officers, and prison guards are still working to keep our nation safe.  Air traffic controllers are also on the job, providing key assistance to the ongoing health of the economy.  According to the message that underlies most of the coverage on Fox News and right-wing radio, most of the folks who have been sent home – most of the so-called “800,000 non-essential employees” – are the faceless bureaucrats whom we shouldn’t be paying for anyway.

            In the minds of many Americans, this so-called “Slimdown” is providing a long-overdue opportunity to put folks like my parents on trial.   The ideologues who are behind the refusal to fund the Government can surely sense a holy mission: to showcase to the nation just how worthless much of the federal workforce is.   This is why their mouthpieces in the media keep talking about how all the furloughs are no big deal – how with the exception of a few national parks shutting down, nobody has missed out on anything they need.

Ever since I began studying economics in college, I have been reading about the “bloated” federal government.  Shortly thereafter, Ronald Reagan rode that theme into the Presidency, and even when a Democrat (Bill Clinton) finally returned to the White House, he spoke about how “The era of Big Government is over.”  But here’s my question: while everyone and her brother has been taking pot shots at “Club Fed,” who has been singing the praises of the federal workforce?  The local DC-area Congresspeople?  Don’t make me laugh – they, too, realize that faceless bureaucrats are about as popular as hemorrhoids.    Truly, Americans might romanticize our school teachers, doctors, lawyers, ball players, rock stars … you name it, we have TV shows and movies celebrating what they do.  But nobody romanticizes analysts at the Department of Commerce or Agriculture.  Now, finally, conservatives see an opportunity to shine a light on these people and ask the nation:  do we really need them, or would we rather save our tax dollars and decide for ourselves what to do with the money?
            I have focused so much on the “faceless bureaucrats” because, despite the central impact of this week’s events on their lives, they are largely being neglected by the media.  Instead, most of the coverage I’ve seen has concentrated on the horse race: which political party is “winning.”   Since the polls favor the Democrats, most journalists have turned their slings and arrows on the GOP.   We’ve heard a lot about GOP infighting, how Ted Cruz is happy to refer to himself as a “looney bird,” and how the GOP is allowing the Tea Party to lead them off the cliff despite not having any leverage.   With respect to the GOP-bashing, perhaps my favorite quotation comes from Congressman Marlin Stutzman, who represents the rural Indiana district where my wife grew up.   He is the Einstein who told a reporter: “We’re not going to be disrespected.   We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”  Funny, I thought respect is something one earned.

            There’s no doubt about it -- it’s fun to bash politicians, isn’t it?  But regardless of what you think of those “statesmen,” let us not miss the deeper point here.  This is not a time to dump all over government.  This is a time to celebrate government.  

To be sure, I make no apologies for being a believer in capitalism.  I deeply appreciate the private sector for all the high-quality, low-cost goods and services that people in America and much of the world take for granted.  No doubt, this robust economy is the product of competition among profit-seeking firms, which is precisely what would be absent if the government controlled all of the means of production.   But Marx wasn’t completely wrong.  Just as socialism is no picnic (or at least not an efficient one), neither is unbridled capitalism.  Take it from a guy who has been investigating and litigating fraud cases for nearly a quarter of a century -- there are plenty of folks in the private sector who don’t exactly have the public interest in mind.  And frankly, even if the private sector was staffed entirely with saints and prophets, there would still be plenty of crucial tasks left unperformed, because there are certain vital jobs that simply don’t generate a profit.  That’s just basic economics.

Can the Government be more efficient?  Absolutely.  Then again, that could be said about any big company as well.  Are there folks in the Government who should be let go because they are unproductive?  Again – same answers.  But that doesn’t mean we should take a meat cleaver to the federal budget and hack away, which appears to be the position of the Conservative Crusaders.  I recognize that that last term sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but here’s the thing: if you are a moderate Republican of the type who thrived 40 years ago and you somehow got elected to the House, you still would have cast your vote for John Boehner, and he is now a full participant in this “Shutdown,” or “Slimdown,” or whatever you want to call it.

Personally, I call it a slap in the face of the legacy of Julius and Evelyn Spiro and all the other fine men and women who have dedicated their lives to working for the public interest, despite receiving zero gratitude in return.  It is not enough that those who have been furloughed  these past few days ultimately receive their back pay when they return to the office.   Let us not forget the many federal employees who were furloughed last year, during “Sequestration,” and the many more who will be furloughed this year if and when a budget is passed.  They are every bit as deserving as the 800,000 who have been told this week how un-essential their work is.  

By the way, lest this sound like a self-interested appeal, I have not yet had the displeasure of being furloughed at the Department of Justice, either during this past week or the previous year.  But I have done my job with a heavy heart.  For I don’t doubt that if my parents were still working, they would have been furloughed.  And even though I am but a short timer with a mere 28 years of federal service under my belt (29 if you include the year I spent, well after I graduated from Harvard Law School, as a poorly-paid contractor for the Department of Education), I can still dedicate my service to the examples of my parents.  

Those who think of Julius and Evelyn Spiro as faceless bureaucrats likely will forget the true tragedy of this week.  It is not that federal employees are getting disrespected.  It’s that they aren’t being allowed to serve.

Your loss, more than ours.