For the past week I have fielded emails and phone calls from a variety of colleagues and friends in Europe and the Middle East professing their utter disbelief regarding the government shutdown and many good wishes as well that it will soon end -- and that the country's lawmakers will come back to their senses.
My parents came to America in the 1950's from Switzerland and Lebanon, respectively, not simply because the United States was a wealthy country (Switzerland and Lebanon are not exactly third world) but also because this country was in a very real sense a beacon unto other nations. The United States had the best medicine, the best schools, and unlimited job opportunities. It was the home to human freedom in the broadest sense and you could quite literally become almost anything you put your mind to.
As many observers know, all of this is slowly -- and perhaps not so slowly -- changing. The rest of the world has caught up to us in many respects, as part of that sometimes nebulous but very real process known as globalization. Germany, China, Brazil, India, parts of the Middle East and Europe have all made tremendous strides economically and educationally -- although many of these countries have also been hit by economic slowdowns. Even our universities -- still the best in the world -- now face stiff competition now, particularly from Asia.
All this is old hat. What is new however is how as a country we deal with this reality and effect change for the better. Do we go back to being a fair nation of entrepreneurs and workers who, buoyed by sensible government programs such as the New Deal and a strong Protestant work ethic once again become the envy of the world or do we sink into petty in-fighting and declining work and living standards? It seems that the Republican party, in any case, has been hijacked by its most regressive, right-wing elements: people who don't believe in universal healthcare (a given in the rest of the developed world), a livable minimum wage or for that matter a halt to the increasing gap between rich and poor, or even between the top and entry level salaries within companies, a gap which has also grown in untenable ways. America is still a land of opportunity, but for how long if we give in to such inhuman views of society?
The government must re-open fully and an economic meltdown avoided; as everyone knows, this would be a disaster not just for the United States but for the world economy. You can agree to disagree on health care or minimum wage or anything else for that matter, but the way to deal with such issues is through our judicial and legal system. Our system of checks and balances and our constitution have been the envy of the world for some two hundred years now. These are the proper avenues for creating change -- as are, I suppose, the types of protests we witnessed during Occupy Wall Street. Holding the country hostage, however, like a bunch of governmental thugs is a shame and a disgrace and one that will not reflect well on the Republican party in years to come. The Republican lawmakers who have already so grievously hurt our country this past week are a true schanda, to borrow a Yiddishism. They may profess to love America but they really don't. It's time to get serious about America again -- and time for Republican voters to vote these representatives and congressmen out of office, once and for all.