Politicians behaving badly

I am writing futuristic science fiction, and in my First Contact trilogy, and in particular the second Dreams Defiled I focused on people in government, and of course to make a story, some had to behave badly. At the personal level, they behaved extremely badly, but in terms of their job, I rather fancy I sold myself short. I would never have predicted that they could behave quite as badly as some American Congressmen seem to be threatening, at least. My characters’ bad behaviour tended to be either through incompetence or for personal gain in terms of power and influence, i.e. knives out to get to the top. While this is not exactly something to approve, it is at least more understandable (to me, anyway) than the current problems.

A democracy can really only work if a new intake of politicians honour the commitments made by their predecessors. They make new laws or regulations, or put forward new policy to change what is happening, but they cannot simply refuse to honour the debts of their predecessors. The reason, of course, is that it is not their predecessors’ reputation that is at stake; it is the validity of the government itself. 

I have no comment on Obamacare; the value of that is something for Americans to decide for themselves, but it was passed into being by a previous Congress and in the next election President Obama stood on that platform, amongst others, and was elected with a sound majority in the electoral college. The current Republicans have got to accept that for the moment at least, Obama has been given a mandate by the American people, and they should live with it. Instead, from a foreign perspective, they are behaving a little like spoiled brats. They have some leverage, or so they think, and they have made President Obama an offer they think he cannot refuse. The problem for them is, they have made him an offer he cannot accept, because if he does he effectively has given up on being President, and they have the opportunity to deliver repeat performances at will. The problem then is, the Republicans have also boxed themselves into a corner from which it is difficult to see an escape route. The simplest way is for the vote to go to the floor of the House, and hope that enough Republicans cross the floor to get them out of this mess.

What happens if they do not? I do not know, but when the United States Government stops paying its bills in mid October I think there will be economic chaos. It is not so much what is really happening, but what the panic-stricken think might be happening. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the United States is the greatest economic powerhouse on the planet, and it has always had the reputation that it honours its debts. Once it starts not to, nobody will know what to trust. Too much of the world’s money that is needed to drive commerce is tied up in greenbacks, mainly because the objective is to tie it up in something that cannot fail. Trouble is, it might, not because the United States economy is going to fall to bits, but rather because some Congressmen have their noses out of joint. These Republicans could do far more damage to the world economy in a month than Al Qaeda could ever do, and in my view, they qualify as fiscal terrorists. Maybe they should be rehoused in Guantanomo!

Dysfunctional Congress: a foreigner’s view

Both my futuristic novels and this blog often have themes related to governance, and the difficulties that arise when people in positions of influence set off with their own agendas and put everybody else’s interests to one side. One of the oddities is that the US Constitution effectively encourages this bizarre dysfunctional behaviour. Some may think that if the Founding fathers could see what is going on now, they would be horrified, but I doubt it. I think they would understand completely.

One of the points I have tried to make in my futuristic novels is that the behaviour of such “important people” tends to be determined by the system under which they operate. Now, if the people who will use a system are those who design it, they tend to design it to retain as much importance and influence for themselves. The problem for the United States of America was that initially the various states were not that united, other than they spoke a common language and they had got rid of a common “colonial master”. They all considered themselves as emerging countries, and while they united, the federal element was always shaky and the individual states wanted to ensure they kept as many rights for themselves as possible. Accordingly, we get the Senators and the Representatives embedded in a system that gives them quite remarkable ability to assert themselves, but unfortunately often in a destructive fashion. What we see now is probably how the system was designed to operate: to do as much as possible to restrain Federal power. In this light, it may be recalled that the second US President, John Adams, one of the men who was as responsible as anyone for having a United States, had his presidency continually undermined by Jefferson. If people of this stature and who had devoted so much effort to the common cause of creating the United States could not work together under this system, is it such a surprise that this lot cannot? Certainly I have seen little evidence from any of them for me to consider them as an equal to Jefferson or Adams in just about any way at all.

Nevertheless, this particular outburst is disappointing. Think of the logic of the situation. During the election, when Obamacare came up for discussion, it was shown that Romney had, as governor, already introduced something very similar (call it Romneycare) and it had increased healthcare efficiency (patient benefits per unit cost) by several tens of a percent. Now, in logic, either Romneycare and Obamacare are more or less equivalent or they are not. If they are, then the Republicans effectively want to deny the rest of the country something that is both of Republican origin, and something that works. If they are not, why don’t they simply propose amendments to make Obamacare better? There is no evidence President Obama would turn down improvements. But no, instead they shut down certain government functions just to show how irritating they can be.

What I find particularly disappointing about this way of going about their posturing is that it is the public servants who are deemed “non-essential” who suffer. I have received an email informing me that the NASA astrobiology forum is closed for the time being. This may not seem a great loss but the public should realize that NASA has started something that I think is very important for democracy: it has invited the community to comment on and suggest what it should do in its future program. Effectively it is saying, “Hey, we’re spending your money, so tell us where to spend it, and why.” Yes, that can wait, but what happens to the NASA staff who now find themselves with no immediate income, maybe not at home (because they travel) and unable to plan? Since everything they are doing will have to be set up again, there must be a serious waste of money on little more than a political posture.

Then there are other government employees who are doing what they are doing because they believe they are doing something worthwhile. One of my colleagues in the US has posted this blog about one group of these, namely those in the Fish and Wildlife Service. I recommend that everyone read this blog and think about it. The blog is at


Such people are probably not in the highest paying jobs, and like everyone else, they probably have families, mortgages, whatever, and then this bunch of dysfunctional politicians cuts off their income just to make some sort of political point. And what particularly annoys me is the definition of “essential services”. I most certainly go along with “Air Traffic Controllers”; these simply cannot be shut down without terrible chaos. But Congressmen salaries? They cause the problem, so it is essential they are exempt from the consequences? And I wonder who decided that?