When I was very young — 25, or thereabouts — I had just arrived in Florence to start learning Italian with a proper Tuscan accent, and as I was mastering the subtleties of the menu in the student mensa and urgent phrases like “where’s the bathroom, please?”, the government fell (over Vietnam, no less). This was a first for me, and I didn’t realize it was actually fairly normal in my soon-to-be second country, and I was plenty worried. So the next morning I struck up a bit of a conversation with the nice man at the coffee bar down the block.
“There’s no government,” I observed.
“Right,” he said.
“What are we going to do?” I asked
“God willing it will last, and they won’t raise taxes.”
It was the first time my mind had entertained the thought that a country without a sitting government might not be a total catastrophe.
We’re not in anything like that condition, as everybody knows. We’ve still got a government, and our elected officials are arguing about how much of our money to spend, and on what. And along these lines, please take a few minutes to read the best commentary on the so-called “shutdown” from America’s most literate newspaper, the New York Sun. It’s unsigned, but it reads like Seth Lipsky, America’s greatest living editor, and the author of a fine book on the Constitution.
Whoever wrote it makes a couple of great points that have gone missing in the wild debate over “whose fault is it?” First, that it’s quite wrong to talk about “defunding Medicare,” since it hasn’t ever been funded. And second, contrary to the president’s rant about Congress fulfilling its legal responsibilities, the Constitution contains no requirement that Congress vote a budget. The Sun says it better than I can, so read it, but those are the takeaways.
Meanwhile, there’s the question the newsies keep asking, namely “whose fault is it?” That is actually a tricky way of saying “we’re blaming the Republicans.” But there’s a prior question, the one prompted by my coffee guy in Florence in 1965: Is this such a bad thing? Yes, people are suffering, including two family members who are currently without pay. Yes, it’s horrible that the Scrooges in the White House and the Democrat Party won’t pony up the money for the sick kids in federally funded hospitals. Etcetera, etcetera.