Would you trust these people with anything?

By Jayson Jacoby October 11, 2013 09:05 am

Somebody has to sign off on all those checks the federal government writes, but why does it have to be Congress?

The Founding Fathers might have botched that one.

Although in their defense, none of those august men ever had to deal with John Boehner.

Or Harry Reid.

Or any other modern politician for whom the words “principle” and “posturing,” which have little in common except containing nine letters and starting with “p,” have become so corrupted as to be nearly synonymous.

Possibly not even the most thoughtful of our nation-building forebears — Thomas Jefferson, for instance — could have conceived just how deeply into the pores of American life our government would one day leach, and how this infection would lead to such inanities as government “shutdowns.”

People trot out a lot of Jefferson’s one-liners as proof of his disdain for a bloated government. Yet as compelling as many of his musings are, you have to acknowledge that the passage of two and a half centuries has had more than a token effect on the context of his quotations.

Probably you’ve noticed that the U.S. no longer ends, for all practical purposes, at the eastern edge of the Appalachians. And few of us ride horses, except for fun.

One of Jefferson’s more cherished statements — “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical” — retains a certain power, to be sure, but it’s also pretty naive.

Not every American thought we ought to be propagating bombs all over Germany and Japan during World War II, but I don’t know that even Jefferson would have described it as a sin or as tyranny when the feds turned these dissenters’ tax dollars into B-17s.

I wonder, though, what Jefferson would have made of the current conundrum in Washington, D.C., in which political grandstanding means American families can’t go gaze into the Grand Canyon.

Some pundits argue that “shutting down” the federal government would have pleased Jefferson. Indeed, empty cubicles in public office buildings call to mind such Jeffersonisms as “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

Perhaps this a valid comparison.

But I’d like to believe that Jefferson, as disgusted as he no doubt would be by the corpulence of what he helped to create, would be even more incensed by the idiocy rampant these days in our great land.

Does any rational person truly believe that the way to deal with a partisan tussle over Obamacare, a law that was passed more than three years ago, is to pretend, when the clock struck midnight on Oct. 1, that the government could not longer afford to pay clerks to sell Old Faithful shot glasses at Yellowstone?

It is of course nothing but a stunt — the legislative equivalent of a five-year-old who insists he can’t eat his broccoli because he has a sore throat.

I don’t believe Jefferson had much tolerance for stunts masquerading as statesmanship.

The aspect of this shutdown that annoys me most is that the effects have nothing whatever to do with the political disagreement that spawned them.

Boehner and Reid aren’t debating whether we should keep our national parks open, after all, or whether a person ought to be able to buy firewood-cutting permits.

They’re fighting over Obamacare.

Yet the parks remain closed. And you can’t buy woodcutting permits.

The future of Obamacare and of Old Faithful are separate matters.

(Unless, I suppose, you happen to fall into Old Faithful and you need skin grafts.)

Nonetheless, we have this system by which Congress can, to belabor my early analogy, come down with an instant case of strep every time mom drops a couple clumps of broccoli on the dinner plate.

Unfortunately, we can’t send Congress to bed without dessert.

Lacking anything like Jefferson’s intelligence, I can offer no solutions to the malaise in the capitol.

And so we plod forward, continuing to pay taxes that buy the padlocks and Jersey barriers that prevent us from enjoying the fruits of our labors.

(Not to mention geysers, which the Earth’s mantle supplies for no charge.)

It’s likely, of course, that we’ll end up paying all the public servants who aren’t serving us, the public — Congress tends to define “furlough” with about as much precision as it applies to “principle.”

Which begins to sound an awful lot like Jefferson after all.

“To compel a man to furnish funds” to get nothing at all might not be sinful or tyrannical.

But it’s as stupid as all get out.

Jayson Jacoby is editor 
of the Baker City Herald.