The sun rises slowly in southern Pennsylvania, ushering in a day full of promise and potential. Dawn near my country cottage is not the same call to pulse-raising political warfare as it is in the nation’s capital – where adrenaline starts pumping with the morning headlines. There in the quiet of the countryside, silence and space allows one to ease into the day’s challenges.
From that perspective it is possible to look back at Washington and wonder if the nation’s policymakers really understand what they are doing. This morning, like so many other ones these days, the newspaper has catastrophe written all over it. Our morning read is full of struggle, fight and alarm. Who will be blamed for the sequester? How long will the fight go on? Are you the only Washington organization that has not been hacked by the Chinese? According to reports, any institution or computer of any importance here has been the subject of an attack. (I wonder how many status-conscious Washingtonians would be disappointed to discover that the Chinese didn’t deem them important enough to bother.) And I will not even go into the nuclear tests in North Korea and all the other things happening around the world…
Where are our “leaders” who should be grappling with these delicate and potentially damaging developments? The House of Representatives was in session only eight days in January. And the Senate plans to be together only 194 days the entire year. Between their absences from the city and Obama’s perpetual campaign tours to persuade the population that his opponents are wrong, it is no wonder that nothing gets done. No one is in Washington at the same time. So how could they possibly even talk, let alone reach compromise?
With the impending sequester and a debt ceiling crisis looming, the stress level for many people in this city is palpable. Columnists are wrong if they think the consequences can be contained and that the major impact will be confined to furloughs and lay-offs. Many of us who have some dealings with the federal government can say that the ripple effect has already started. For some time, government agencies have been deferring decisions because of the uncertainty, directly impacting companies that are poised to provide even the most basic of services. Other government entities are cancelling events and other activities out of concern for what they think would be unfavorable “optics.” Many important projects have been shelved, even some that serve the vital interests of this country as we reinvigorate our economy and strive to retain our competitive global edge. The uncertainty that has spawned this anxious withdrawal, and the deterioration of trust that has gone with it, speaks poorly of our elected officials and political parties. This has not happened because the nation is divided. It has happened because we don’t have leadership.
Long walks in the countryside can be physically restorative and mentally reinvigorating. This time of the year, the cold, dry bite in one’s nose sharpens the senses and affirms the glory of being alive. Why are we doing this to ourselves? What are our politicians saving themselves for? Why won’t they spend more of their prestige to find some common-sense solutions that will benefit the country as a whole? These are the kinds of questions that come to mind in the silence and the space of a long unpaved road.