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October 10, 2013

A Game Without Winners

As the shutdown of the federal government drags on, Americans are angry. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is watching with nervous disbelief as we edge toward defaulting on our debts. And with each additional day the shutdown continues, the damage gets worse.

The national parks, of course, have been closed since the beginning, which has meant both bitter disappointment and increasing economic hardship for millions. But the damage doesn't stop there. We're seeing everything from coal-mining accidents to cancellation of this year's polar climate research to delays in implementation of life-saving clean-air standards by the EPA, along with other parts of President Obama's Climate Action Plan.

We have good reason to be angry, frustrated, and worried. But even if the current crisis is resolved, those emotions will have been wasted if we don't find a way to deal with the underlying problems that have led to this chronic governmental dysfunction. Chief among these is that our members of Congress spend more time pleading with wealthy donors for campaign funds than working on problems that affect the rest of us.

At the same time, Congress has come unmoored from basic democratic principles to the point where a minority can hold the government hostage. To do so by threatening something as radical as defaulting on the federal debt is not negotiation -- it's pulling the pin on a grenade.

The mentality of Tea Party Republicans that brought us to this debt crisis is the same one that exacerbates the climate crisis: a rigid ideology devoid of facts, reason, or any desire to identify common ground.

The recklessness and irresponsibility that we're seeing from Republicans in the House are symptoms of a system that demands reform. If nothing else good comes of the current mess, let's hope it raises awareness of that fact. The solutions need not be radical. In Iowa, a Democratic representative and one of his Republican colleagues discussed adopting redistricting reforms that would encourage more-competitive races. President Obama, too, raised the issue of gerrymandered districts during his press conference this week, as well as noting the corrosive effect of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision on campaign spending.

As I noted in my previous post, the McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission case currently before the Supreme Court could make things even worse by removing limitations on individual contributions to political campaigns. That's why the Sierra Club and its partners in The Democracy Initiative were out in force this week to call attention to the issue.

The media like to talk about who's "winning" in the blame game. The real answer is that, without real reform, nobody can win. Only by restoring our democracy, will we be free to tackle the real challenges of this century. Congress needs to get its act together. It can start by ending this shutdown and reopening our national parks. Then let's makes sure it doesn't stop there.

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