We left for California on Oct. 4, four days into the federal government’s shutdown. Our plan was to revisit some of the places we frequented when we lived in the Bay Area.
I loved Point Reyes Seashore, a national park north of the Golden Gate along the coast. It’s rough and beautiful with incredible beaches, where we had hiked and felt the salty winds of the Pacific Ocean in our faces. While we searched the web about Point Reyes, I clicked on the page for the park, and a notice immediately popped up. It said, “Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service web pages are not operating. For more information, go to www.doi.gov.”
I was already upset about the shutdown, but this news made me angrier and more disgusted. Now, we, along with thousands of others, couldn’t experience the beauty of our parks. And People who tour our nation’s capitol couldn’t access monuments and museums that have always been freely accessible.
How do you quantify the value of citizens who experience the natural beauty of our land or learn about the history of our great nation? These things are part of our national identity.
Closures of other government agencies are even more upsetting. Because of it, millions of low-income families are cut off from nutritional and educational support. Agencies that perform cancer research trials, or track diseases in the population, or check our food for contamination, or protect the environment, are all compromised.
Emergency management is crippled. Our national security efforts are undermined.
Efforts by the House of Representatives to return agencies to functionality by a piecemeal approach haven’t been accepted by the White House — and rightly so. The House’s refusal to pass a continuing budget resolution without trying to defund Obamacare as part of that resolution is the reason for the shutdown in the first place.
Whatever we may think about Obamacare, it is the law of the land. What needs to be understood is that Republicans have already been able to cow politicians into agreeing to a bare-bones budget based on the sequester. Yet they want more austerity with no increases in revenue.
As I shook my head over the situation, I re-read a letter I had printed the first day I looked online for information about Point Reyes. The letter was from President Obama and was directed to the federal employees who were being furloughed.
The letter made me sad. In it, he thanks all of the federal employees for their commitment, and he calls them patriots. He goes on to write, “You do all this in a political climate that, too often in recent years, has treated you like a punching bag.”
There’s the point!
Why has the public sector become such a punching bag? I believe it is due to two factors.
First, there are those in this country who want to privatize everything, make everything for profit.
Second, too many Americans have no idea how much they benefit from our government programs, at both the state and federal levels.
The president’s letter felt like something out of a movie with apocalyptic overtones, where an American president has to tell his people that some alien force is threatening the country.
Now my disappointment over missing Point Reyes has been replaced with deep alarm about the pain that’s being inflicted on the American people.
Right now, I’m hoping people will see the destructive path we are on, and pressure those in the House who applaud the shutdown to change course.
I wish Americans didn’t have such starkly different views about what makes our country great.A Time to Talk columnist Mary Magee can be reached by email at marymagee@ harbornet.com.