Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 9, 2013

A textbook example of how not to govern, and how not to ask a question


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — What happens when government is no longer able to govern? That’s a legitimate question given the current and very sad state of affairs in Washington. What do we do when those who we elected and sent to Washington in good faith to represent us are no longer able to negotiate and compromise? What happens when the president of the United States says he will no longer negotiate with the U.S. House of Representatives?

Well guess what? Something is going to have to give, and soon. Our nation is now eight days away from a national default if lawmakers don’t act on raising the debt limit, more commonly known as the dreaded fiscal cliff. Do nothing, and we risk another recession. And that’s all this great nation needs right now.

Some will say going over the fiscal cliff is no big deal. And America defaulting on its debts is no big deal. I doubt Wall Street will respond in like manner. If another recession occurs, and if it triggers a global economic downturn, all lawmakers — Republicans, Democrats and Tea Party advocates alike — will be blamed.

So is a partial government shutdown really a bad thing? Some believe it isn’t. After all, we could all use a little bit less government in our lives — right? Absolutely. But consider this. The only thing lawmakers in Washington have been able to agree upon as of late is paying furloughed federal workers. That’s right. Even though we have shutdown parts of Washington, we are still going to pay those federal employees impacted by the government shutdown to sit at home and not work. Unbelievable. Most people would love to get paid for sitting at home and doing nothing.

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With the partial government shutdown dragging into its second week, a disturbing trend is emerging among those lawmakers who can’t resist the urge to appear in front of a television camera. These elected leaders are refusing to answer the questions that reporters are asking them. Instead, they ignore the question that is being asked and stick to their 30-second sound bites — repeating the same statements over and over again on multiple channels. Why the television reporters are letting them get away with this is a good question. A recent example: a lawmaker is asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to respond to public opinion polls that suggest a majority of citizens are not only angry at Congress, but downright befuddled by their actions. His response? He doesn’t respond. Instead, he goes back to the same old scripted statement he’s been making over and over again — blaming the shutdown on the U.S. Senate and Barack Obama. Does the reporter attempt to repeat the question, or demand an answer. Of course not.

Politicians are less able to get away with such trickery during newspaper editorial board interviews. We will ask the question again. And again. If they don’t respond, or refuse to answer the question being posed to them, we will put in print and online — for everyone to read and see — that they are refusing to answer a question. It’s as simple as that. Our friends in television should take a tougher stance, and demand that politicians answer the questions that are being posed to them.

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All of the three-ring circus theatrics we’ve seen in Washington over the past week or so is a textbook example of how not to govern. All too often we see elected leaders make the same mistakes over and over again, and in the case of the federal government shutdown, all new mistakes.

Getting on television and saying you won’t compromise is a disturbing first. When government officials won’t sit down, talk like reasonable adults and ultimately compromise, you have a serious problem. I guess we all should have seen this coming when we elected a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-controlled Senate. Did we really think these men and women would be able to play together nicely? And then when the president says he won’t negotiate or compromise, the situation gets even worse.

Everyone needs an exit strategy out of this mess, and no one appears to have one. At the end of the day, or the end of the prolonged government shutdown, odds are pretty good that you are going to make more than a few people angry. Especially if the government shutdown adversely affects the Stock Market, and causes our 401K retirement plans and other investments to crash. Money talks. And angry voters will respond with action come the next election cycle.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.