Seventeen years ago, I went to hear Helen Chenoweth speak about the government shutdown orchestrated by her hero Newt Gingrich, the serial adulterer, future failed presidential candidate and all-around tool--who was at the time the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and second in the line of succession to the presidency, even though he was, even then, the same tubby, odious, pompous, ridiculous clown he remains today.
Chenoweth was then representing Idaho's First Congressional District--the seat now held by Tea Party parasite Raul Labrador. She made quite a splash in her day by being one of the darlings of the right-wing idiocracy--positions now filled by the likes of Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz and, yes, Raul Labrador--as well as being exposed as a serial adulterer and ridiculous clown herself. On the evening I heard her, Ms. Chenoweth was explaining to a largely sympathetic local audience what a triumph it was that Gingrich, with the aiding and abetting of the GOP freshman congressional class of 1994, had brought the United States government to its knees, and that hundreds of thousands of "nonessential" government employees had been sent home. With a rubbery smile on her self-satisfied face and Newt-onian logic that she passed off as her own, Ms. Chenoweth chirped to her fawning, blank-eyed followers about how "Golly, isn't it just ironic how we are getting along fine without all those bureaucrats and public employee unions wasting taxpayers' money, tee hee"--or words to that effect.
In spite of my natural aversion to speaking in public, particularly to people I consider flaming morons, I asked Ms. Chenoweth how essential she considered herself to be, as all she had ever accomplished as a taxpayer-supported government employee was to regurgitate whatever the conservative blab factory was piping into her head. "Do we really need to be paying you the big Congressperson bucks to stand around repeating everything that comes out of Gingrich's mouth? Wouldn't a recorded message be a lot cheaper?"--or words to that effect.
I couldn't tell whether she didn't understand the question, or simply refused to answer, knowing that she could get away with ignoring me before an audience that had a distinctly Canyon County stink to it. She just gave me that amphibian grin I remember her for, and asked the crowd if there were any more questions.
Helen Chenoweth is no longer with us. Sometime after she left Congress, she was thrown out of a vehicle during an accident--I have speculated that her last words were something like, "Damn nanny state! They can't tell me I have to buckle up!"--and she's passed on, presumably to that special section of Heaven that God reserves for true believers who don't much believe in that "Do Unto Others..." stuff.
Since that evening Helen and I shared 17 years past, I have sharpened my attitude on what constitutes a "nonessential" government employee. And now that once again the federal government has been rendered semi-comatose by thoughtless berserker thugs, it's a good time to share that attitude.
Which is: Park rangers are not nonessential. Nor are NASA engineers and tour guides in the Smithsonian. FDA meat inspectors and EPA administrators and cancer researchers and OSHA officials and Head Start teachers, none of these people--along with 800,000 others--are nonessential, in spite of being treated as such by fringie ideologues who look at the America they profess to love with only one thought in their muddy little heads--What's in it for me? Yet to the rest of us, the 70 percent who don't identify with the sociopathic brats, each and every government employee, currently sitting at home, waiting for the Cruzistas to end their coup de tantrum so they can return to work, is essential.
In myriad ways, they fill functions that some significant portion of us have reason to believe needs to be filled. Not all of us go to national parks, visit the Smithsonian or care whether America has a space program. Not all of us have a child in Head Start or an illness which the CDC is working to cure or a storm-ravaged community that turns to FEMA for relief. Yet taken together, these "nonessential" people answer a call of duty that we, the Greater Nation of Us, have decided our society is better off having than not having. Their work is what we collectively do unto others, how we provide educations, health, welfare, safety, beauty, history, continuity and much more to one another, just as we would have them collectively do unto us.
Would we be a better country, as these anarchist zealots hint at with their disdain for anyone on a government payroll--except themselves--if we didn't have a national museum? Or a commission to regulate mine safety? A Food and Drug Administration? The zealots must believe that, yes?... or they wouldn't be crowing how, "Aren't we getting along just fine without all those bureaucrats and public employee unions wasting taxpayers' money, tee hee."
So, citizens, even if the shutdown is over by the time you read this, we must ask ourselves, What is more essential to this land we live in and people we're part of? Meat inspectors or Ted Cruz? Park rangers or the sniveling John Boehner? Meals on Wheels or Raul Labrador? The National Guard or the Tea Party? "Panda Cam," or the entire putrid, mindless mess that still has the gall to call itself a grand old party?
I'll go with the Panda Cam, myself.