The national fiasco popularly known as the federal government shutdown is prompting us to take a collective gut check: will anything productive and hopeful result from this mess? Across the country, in towns big and small, Americans of all political persuasions are likely sitting at their kitchen tables asking this question.
The distinct danger our political leaders risk today is that the answer will be an emphatic "no!" Leaders on different sides of the shutdown debate have had plenty of time to stake out their positions, make their cases, and curry favor with their partisan bases. Their points have been duly noted. But enough is enough.
People want to move forward, not backward. But let's be clear: ending the shutdown is only the first step. The second must be to produce meaningful agreements on substantive issues now confronting the nation. Returning to the status quo would be to declare defeat.
Of course, there are some hardened partisans who will continue to want to "win" at any cost -- whatever that might mean at this point. But it's clear most Americans are tired of all the political posturing, name-calling and blame-placing. They want to know that this country, and their lives, will be better off at the end of this debacle.
Before it is too late, our political leaders must pause and ask themselves three basic questions:
1. How can we stop the finger-pointing and innuendos so that progress is even possible? The food fight on Capital Hill has run its course.
2. How can we isolate those issues that truly need to be addressed? For instance, it is clear that everyone agrees that entitlements require genuine attention, debate and action.
3. How can we find a pathway that enables enough leaders to save face so they're willing to more forward? This is what we're asking the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve in their negotiations; surely, on a much simpler issue, our leaders at home can do this.
When our leaders sit at their own kitchen tables, they would be wise to take stock of where we are as a result of the shutdown, and what they must do to end it. It should be clear to them that more political fighting only will further corrode people's trust in our politics and public life. More gridlock will only diminish peoples' sense of confidence that positive change is possible. More posturing will only further strip the public square of any sense of authenticity. Is this, in the end, what they want? For this certainly is the path we're on.
It's not too late. End this fiasco and give Americans a reason to have faith again in their government.
Follow Richard C. Harwood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RichHarwood