Anarchy is upon us, at least technically. The Federal Government of the United States of America has ceased function as of yesterday. This is a dramatic, though unfortunately not unprecedented, situation born of political discord and disagreement. For most countries, this descent into anarchy would signal the beginning of a failed state, the imminence of a coup, and the breakout of violence. Luckily, for a nation as traditionally stable and great as ours, it should only portend of increased rancor and brinksmanship. However, this shutdown represents an important symptom of a potentially terminal illness in our system of politics and government.
We have always prided ourselves as a nation of laws, and not men. By that, simply, I mean that laws are enacted through a regular and collective process, and each and every person residing in the United States are held to those laws. The Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare), a federal system of regulating the insurance industry, was enacted into law using these mechanisms, albeit amongst significant debate and controversy. Opponents of the law then raised a real concern that it was outside the constitutional limits set on federal government. A Supreme Court challenge was raised, and the law was deemed constitutional. Much can be said about this law, but nobody can challenge that it was passed, enacted, and validated through completely regular channels and is constitutional (by definition, inasmuch as Supreme Court precedent defines constitutionality). At this point, opponents of this law continue to have choices. They can push for repeal and see if they can get sufficient votes, or they can bide their time until the next election and see if they can get sufficient votes. To date, they have not been shy (nor have they been successful) about either of these options. However, refusing to fund the law of the land is not one of their options and is tantamount to aiding the violation of said law, under the doctrine of accessory liability.
Arguing that the government shutdown is due to the Democrat’s intransigence and refusal to negotiate about the ACA is thus a non-valid argument. The ACA is the law of the land, like it or not, and any debates about it occurring between the legislative and executive branches is unconstitutional. Whatever further debates are to be had must be confined to the judicial branch. The tea party branch of the Republican Party would do well to read the constitution they so claim to support.
Please understand, I am not saying this as a supporter of the ACA. In fact, as a tax payer, a physician, and a small business owner, I stand to lose in at least three different ways through its implementation. I also feel that it is too contingent upon insurance companies dealing in good faith, something they have not traditionally been known to do. However, my opinions or the opinions of anyone in Congress are totally immaterial to this argument. The simple fact is that as it is the law of the land, Congress must pass appropriate funding for it. There exist avenues to reconsider this law, however withholding funding is not one of them.
Our constitution, like the ACA, unfortunately depends on individuals acting in good faith for the greater good. It depends on civility and cooperation, and assumes that the ultimate goal of those involved is the good of the nation. Unfortunately, those assumptions no longer ring true. Many of those involved in government are spending too much time and energy working on the next election and short term gains for their party rather than long term gains for their nation. Rules are changed routinely by those in power to their own benefit, and then ignored or complained about just as routinely when those same people are no longer in power. This is in contrast to both moral and ethical principles, which dictate that (especially in such a cyclical environment), rules be followed by those in power even if it is in their short term detriment. Episodes such as the current one are thus both reinforcing causes and symptoms of a deep seeded political dysfunction which threatens the basic assumptions of our founding fathers and exposes the holes in the Constitution. Either we resolve to improve our collective character, or we amend the constitution to legislate away our failings, or we are doomed to witness the decline of our international hegemony.