What did we learn from the shutdown?

World War II veterans rebelled when they couldn’t visit the monuments in Washington. Scientists were frantic when years of research was endangered. Hundreds of cancer patients were justifiably upset when they were denied potentially life-saving treatment protocols after the shuttering of the NIH. And it all had a ripple effect – when national parks 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.

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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 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. And 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 (R-Texas) 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.

Elliot is communications director for Fair Share. Fair Share stands for an America where everyone gets their fair share, does their fair share, and pays their fair share; and where everyone plays by the same rules.

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