Picture a lone Republican running through the darkened hallways of power, paraphrasing Soylent Green's climactic line as he shouts the news to his peers:
"It's people! The Federal government is people!"
That insight seemed to strike Hill Republicans last week, if only briefly: Our government is made up of people helping other people. But don't count on seeing a new era of conciliation or a new embrace of democratic processes. Instead Republicans seemed to renew their commitment to the principle that only one branch of government -- their branch -- should control it.
Call it the Imperial Congress, and this week it tried to invent a new form of governance.
Of the People, By the People ...
This could be a learning moment for any Republican willing to change. For years they've railed against a dark and faceless abstraction they call "Government." Now that they've shut down the government -- not the faceless monster of their fantasies, but the real-life Constitutional version -- they've been forced to change their tune a little.
Consider Rep. Randy Neugebauer's boorish rant to a Park Ranger, whom he lacerated because the shutdown had closed a park to most visitors. Neugebauer didn't tell the ranger or the crowd of onlookers that we didn't need parks, or that we could do without a government to run them. Instead he tried to place the blame for their closure on a single Federal employee.
Suddenly the enemy was government shutdowns, not government. That's progress -- in a way.
But think of it: A Congressman who voted to shut down the government, while continuing to receive $172,000 per year, dressed down a park ranger who had shown up for work not knowing when -- or if -- she would be paid at all. (The average Park Ranger earns $44,900 per year.)
Neugebauer, and others like him, have been indoctrinated with a far-right ideology which says that Federal employees should "get off our backs." But instead of facing a Randian parasite, Neugebauer was confronted with a human being trying to do a popular job under difficult circumstances. Deep down inside, his rage might have been thinly concealed shame.
It certainly should have been.
This embarrassing moment, and others like it, might have contributed to the GOP's decision late last week to agree that all furloughed workers will eventually receive back pay. (They may have also discovered that Federal employees, like other citizens, vote.)
... and For the People
Neugebauer told the Park Ranger she should be "ashamed" for turning a line of people away from a national park site, even though Neugebauer's party has been orchestrating the shutdown for months (as reported in detail in today's New York Times).
The Congressman confronted another reality that day: The government exists for people just like the ones standing in line with him. And since the people designed that government through their democratic institutions, it shouldn't be surprising that they generally like the things it does. Even conservatives who mouth anti-government rhetoric usually like going to parks and museums, or receiving Social Security checks.