Austerity brings out the worst in government and the best in those who pay for it.
This week's government shutdown has exacerbated a form of sinister political theater that was in play as a result of sequestration. It's called Washington Monument Strategy, a phrase coined after a 1990 government shutdown led the National Park Service to close the Washington Monument at the peak of tourist season.
As politicians go about normal lives of elaborate travel and golf, children are turned away from White House tours. After the shutdown began this week, the Air Force Academy suffered a near-instant toilet paper shortage.
Any confusion about the symbolic nature of some budget cuts cleared up this week after Pentagon officials tried to cancel Saturday's football game between the Air Force and Naval academies. Turns out, the game is not federally funded. Furthermore, it's highly profitable.
"We could run our entire athletics program and conduct events as we always do without any government funds," said Naval Academy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk.
Saturday's game was back on after Gladchuk said cancellation was intended to create "optics" - as in Washington Monument theatrics.
The week's most heartless exploitation came after CNN congressional reporter Dana Bash asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., about a young girl dying of leukemia. The girl was involved in a clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health, Bash asked Reid if he might support an anticipated bill to keep the NIH functioning, given knowledge of the girl, and Reid made clear his opposition.
Reid: "Why would we want to do that? I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada) that are sitting home," Reid said. "They have a few problems of their own."
In stark contrast to government's negativity is private-sector kindness and compassion we will need more if the shutdown continues. Colorado Springs restaurateur Richard Skorman responded to news of furloughed federal workers by offering them free meals (Poor Richard's, 300 block of North Tejon Street). Those who are able should help Skorman by frequenting his businesses, leaving generous tips and offering to pay for extra meals.
When a mother and daughter in Utah learned the shutdown could stop government's Women Infants and Children assistance program, they offered free fruit from a pear tree in their yard. The small gesture inspired a statewide phenomenon of individuals and businesses donating food, clothing, diapers, baby formula, etc. - just in case government stops basic assistance.
Among the growing numbers of businesses and individuals stepping in to soften the blow of the combined sequester and shutdown is Sam's Club, a members-only wholesale-priced mega store. As part of the shutdown, military bases have closed commissaries military personnel count on for discount pricing. During the shutdown, Sam's will offer temporary passes to anyone who shows military ID or proof of past/present military service. Don't be surprised if the company's competitors follow suit.
If the shutdown continues, expect more outreach from the private sector and more creative efforts by federal bureaucrats and politicians to make sure the public feels it.
Whomever anyone blames for this fiasco, all can agree the shutdown will cause suffering in a culture that has grown heavily dependent on government for passive income, employment and distribution.
At times like this, when government fails us, we must look out for one another like never before.