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What did we learn from the shutdown?

Government is a word, strange and overused, for the things we decide to do together. And if there is one lesson that the recent 16-day government shutdown taught us, it is this: there are a lot of things we Americans have decided to do, together, and people were angry when these things were taken away.

World War II veterans rebelled when they couldn’t visit the monuments in Washington. Scientists were frantic when years of research were endangered. Hundreds of cancer patients were justifiably upset when they were denied potentially life-saving treatment protocols after the shuttering of the National Institutes of Health. And it all had a ripple effect — when national parks like the Grand Canyon were closed, when spending by government agencies across the country ground to a halt, when 800,000 federal workers were, in effect, furloughed, it drained $24 billion out of our economy, according to the S&P index.

This all supposedly was a fight over Obamacare, but actually it was about much, much more. The conflict centered on a fundamental question: What is the rightful place of government in our lives? During the shutdown, several competing philosophies emerged.

One philosophy, embraced by the Tea Party faction of the GOP, held that government has no role in our lives, save for the bare essentials (and even those were threatened by the shutdown). And they were willing to sacrifice our economy to get their way.

A second philosophy, and one that we at Arizona Fair Share believe in, along with most Americans, is pretty different: Let’s do all we can for an economy that works for all of us, and that gives the most kids a chance at a fair shot at a good life. Let’s do more than we did yesterday, and do it together. A shutdown that nearly destroys all progress toward this goal is almost antithetical to this philosophy.

Is there any question that this second approach is embraced by the majority of Americans? Consider that after the rise of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and after the Tea Party overran Republican leadership in the House, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that only 24 percent of respondents held a positive view of the GOP — the lowest such finding in the poll’s history.

And now, government is up and running again, much to the relief of Americans who want to take their families camping in a national park or small-business owners who rely on the trickle-down effect of government spending for their livelihoods.

But the budget fights are not over. Government is only funded until January, and the issue of the debt ceiling will return a month later. Now is a good time for all of us to reflect on the proper role of government in our lives and our priorities as a nation, and, most importantly, how we might align these two things.”

Matthew Kay is a community organizer with Arizona Fair Share, a grassroots nonprofit organization.



  1. Great piece. I had a friend who had to stop parts of her cancer research due to shutdown. I for one, am happy she is back to fighting cancer.

  2. Government is not what we decide to do together. In God We Trust, Matthew! As Americans, if we don’t know by now the proper role of government, then we are doomed to dependency. Dad taught us that “fair” is where you take the pig in the fall.
    Rick Santelli had it right when he sparked the tea party movement in February 2009 on MSNBC. Watch the You Tube rant that garnered 1,442,062 views. I don’t want to pay for my neighbor’s mortgage. Government, go away! Closing open air monuments that belong to the people and disrespecting our nation’s finest are two more examples of mean-spirited ideologues run amuck. As for Arizona Fair Share, I would invite readers to do their own research.

  3. We learned that the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

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