DC shows it’s full of…puppets

Although the start of the federal government shutdown on Tuesday was the farthest thing from the minds of most Pittsburgh Pirates fans, the situation that took effect – both in Washington and across the nation – is indicative of a problem much bigger than the shutdown itself.

It is the fact that the nation’s two legislative chambers, along with the government’s executive branch, have lost the ability to make substantial, lasting progress despite harboring reasonable differences of opinion.

Both political parties are responsible for the absence of flexibility and real compromise that would allow major progress to be made on the difficult issues at hand, despite ongoing differences in political philosophy.

As a result, more than ever before, voters of both political parties need to engage in some open-minded reflection as they look ahead to the 2014 congressional elections and, even beyond that, to the congressional and presidential races in 2016.

Likewise, within the House of Representatives and Senate, members need to reassess the quality of their leadership. Part of the immediate fallout from the governmental crisis now under way, and the impending battle involving the nation’s debt ceiling, might be current leaders with much weaker influence over their colleagues.

That would be a refreshing change, if representatives and senators actually voted on the basis of their own consciences rather than on their leaders’ iron-fist – albeit oftentimes questionable – guidance.

What is upon the nation now is a situation that has been evolving for more than four years, and it is the responsibility of the electorate, beginning next year, to affix blame – by way of their votes – for what’s now at hand.

That decision must be based on the damage already done and its continuing effects, rather than political party loyalty – although, in many cases, that might be too much to ask.

While many Americans might not feel much sympathy about the adverse effects the shutdown is having on government workers and some of the services they provide, any shutdown, partial or something more, directly affects virtually everyone in small or more significant ways.

For example, many millions of workers nationwide will experience losses in their 401(k) accounts at their places of employment based on stock market losses tied to the federal impasse.

Meanwhile, it’s unconscionable that lawmakers and the president would be responsible for the National Institute of Health’s famed hospital of last resort having to turn away each week about 200 patients – 30 of them children – wanting to enroll in studies of experimental treatments.

On that front alone, a protracted shutdown would be inhumane as well as irresponsible.

Next year’s elections should focus on how individual lawmakers performed in terms of extracting the nation from the current crisis and in resolving the serious issues of the days ahead – whether they demonstrated a mind of their own and the kind of leadership they promised at campaign time, or merely allowed themselves to be manipulated like puppets, to the nation’s detriment.

The unfortunate fact is there are now too many puppets in Washington.

On Tuesday, the Pirates got the job done and are poised to move forward.

Congress and President Barack Obama should heed that positive example by ending the existing partisan quicksand that has no prospects for lasting victory, allowing the nation to move forward as well.