Government shutdown shows problems country has been facing for a long time

It’s official: the federal government is shut down for all but essential functions.

The finger-pointing continues. The President won’t negotiate with the GOP. The Tea Party won’t relent on their demand to eliminate Obamacare.

The Speaker of the House is caught between the Tea Party, the more moderate balance of his caucus, and the White House. And the American people gaze at this business-as-usual scene with weariness and anger.

What’s not generally recognized is that America is on the cusp of one of those pivotal moments in her history. We’ve seen these before: a monumental struggle between two opposed and seemingly irreconcilable views, vying for the soul of the nation.

We’ve fought these battles before: slavery, states’ rights, labor versus management, civil rights, and even the ability of citizens to consume alcoholic beverages.

This battle is about the limitations the Federal Government has in intruding into the daily lives of its citizens.

The struggle is about more than health care. It also concerns whether photographers can refuse to take pictures at a same-sex “marriage”; the ability of a hospital run by a religious organization to refuse to pay for employee contraceptive coverage; and the freedom of a citizen to choose a public school for her children without interference.

These are not trivial matters. They go to the heart of the balance of power between a government and its citizens. Jefferson reminds us that this power originates from its citizens and flows to government, not the other way around.

So perhaps it’s time we realized that these issues won’t be resolved without a good deal of struggle, conversation, soul-searching, and even shared pain by all concerned.

Perhaps it’s time we had a basic conversation about these issues, some of which have been festering for nearly half a century.

Perhaps it’s time we realize we cannot borrow limitlessly to fund programs, no matter how noble or well-intended.

Perhaps it’s time we had a conversation about the extent to which a majority may dictate to the minority, and vice versa.

Perhaps we should talk about the extent to which government can be all things to all people.

Perhaps we should revisit the concept of subsidiarity, the pushing down of responsibility to the lowest competent level of government.

Perhaps we should understand that the basic problem of class inequity in this country is not the number of wealthy or what they control, but the widening gulf between them and the rest of us, and that the total confiscation of the assets and income of the wealthiest in our country will not solve our problems.

Perhaps we should realize that the in-your-face tactics used by some involving race, gender, sexual orientation, and class envy have run their course and, in the words of Robert Burns, “leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.”

Perhaps we should begin to understand that not all problems are solved with a lawsuit, and that not every wrong has a remedy.

And finally, perhaps we should understand the value in lowered voices, in the silence that permits thinking before speaking, the courtesy we owe to each other, and the realization that democracy is inherently messy and demands the best from each of us.

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