“You’re missing football season?”
Their accusatory tone insinuated I was some sort of witch, or worse, a communist.
When I broke the news to my friends and family that I’d be spending a semester in Washington, D.C. as a part of the Michigan in Washington Program, I was met with congratulatory praise along with an assessment of my mental health — admittedly, no one in his or her right mind would miss football season.
When I arrived in Washington, D.C., my MIW program manager, Margaret Howard, told us to prepare ourselves. Why? Because after Labor Day weekend, D.C. would “have its game face on.” I wasn’t really sure what she had meant by that, but I’d find out soon enough.
I was still bitter about missing game days, and the Snapchats of my friends bleary-eyed with school spirit(s) didn’t exactly ease my nostalgia. I wanted to scream the fight song until I sounded like a chain smoker. I wanted to dance on elevated surfaces until I had shin splints. I wanted to be in the stands dutifully shaking my yellow pom-pon. As I soberly lamented my circumstances, little did I know that while I’d be missing football season in Ann Arbor, right here in D.C. I’d get to watch one of the biggest game of winners and losers in 17 years.
Cue the government shutdown.
After only a month of my internship and weeks of political brinkmanship, it had finally happened: Congress had shut the federal government down.
But what exactly does that mean? Congress couldn’t agree on how to fund the federal government, and without funding, the government can’t remain open. As a result, hundreds of thousands of government workers were furloughed until the tentative date of reopening. Many Washingtonians, including a handful of the 23 MIW students who are federal-government interns, were rocking what has cynically been referred to as furlough casual or shutdown chic — jeans and a T-shirt.
While Congress was tone deaf to the angry outcries of hardworking Americans, I found myself asking, “By God, man, did no one think of the interns?”
But the politicians cried, “Nay!”
On the contrary, they argued. Speaker of the House John Boehner said, “This isn’t some damn game!”
Well, Mr. Speaker, it sure seems that way to us.
If the shutdown showdown were a football game, certainly Sen. Ted Cruz would be the Republican Party coach. With an act of bold political obstructionism patriotism, he convinced both teams to play into the end zone of no return — the debt ceiling. He gave them something to fight for and against: Obamacare. His pep talk lasted 21 hours, making me think he might have taken former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler a little too seriously when he said, “Those who stay will be champions.”
Sen. Rand Paul also seems to think this is a game. In fact, I know he does. In a candid, hot mic moment captured by local news station WPSD 6, he told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, “I think if we keep saying, ‘We wanted to defund it. We fought for that and that we’re willing to compromise on this,’ I think they can’t, we’re gonna, I think … well, I know we don’t want to be here, but we’re gonna win this, I think.” Now that’s a gaffe that makes Mitt Romney’s tree appraisal look like the work of an expert arborist.
But, didn’t Boehner just say that this isn’t a game? Hey guys, is there something you’re not telling us? Have you been — dare I say it — lying to us?
As D.C. continues to say this isn’t a game, we all know that’s a joke. And Miley Cyrus knows it, too. In Saturday Night Live’s parody, “We did stop (the government),” her witty lyrics and lewd portrayal of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R–Minn.) leaves viewers with a bad aftertaste, similar to the one Congress has left us with. If you can get past the scuzzy images of who I’m assuming to be President Barack Obama and Uncle Sam, Miley makes an important point: Politicians don’t seem like real people to us; they are two-dimensional characters with talking points, and we don’t respect them.
In the days leading up to the reopening of the government, when my own faith in our two-party system was at an all-time low, Washington Post chief correspondent Dan Balz came to speak to the MIW students. He was asked if he had lost faith in Washington and his answer took me by surprise.
“I’m a long-term optimist and a short-term pessimist.”
Why? Because those who vote will solve this, and even though it may take a while for things to change, they will change. And strangely enough, I believe him.
As I sit here writing this, I’m sipping some cold, terrible coffee out of my ornamental Starbucks “YOU ARE HERE” Washington, D.C. collection mug. YOU ARE HERE — what a funny thing to put on a mug. I know I’m here; we all are.
I once got to ask Chris Cillizza, the founder and editor of The Fix, what sport he thought politics was most like. He told me football.
At the University, we love football. We wake up every Saturday at some ungodly hour to the smell of Crystal Palace vodka singeing our nose hairs to cheer on our team.
If Washington has its game face on, so should we. To paraphrase Dan Balz, let us be short-term pessimists about the current condition of politics and long-term optimists that we can make a difference because we are here. Otherwise, this is just a game of losers.
So here’s to being a team player.
Natasha Ertzbischoff is an LSA junior.