Democracy requires patience -- sometimes the patience of Job
Yes, the Republicans blinked. Many in their own party foresaw that they would come away from the government shutdown showdown with a political loss and nothing to show for it but further negotiations over revenue and spending, tax reform and the future of Social Security and Medicare.
Those negotiations were going to happen anyway, whether driven by the White House or either house of Congress or economic reality. And the deal that put the United States government back to work and our creditors at ease is short term, which means that we could be going through similar shenanigans early next year.
There's no gain in that for anyone.
Representative democracy is messy, conflicted, contradictory, selfish and frustrating. That's why it requires so much patience and a strong sense of perspective. But it's worth it.
Patience is not an American virtue, and in today's politics, perspective goes begging. But for a lesson in why they are vital to democracy, we might pick up David Von Drehle's book, "Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year."
That year was 1862, and if you think the country is on the brink now, let Von Drehle take you back 151 years. America in 1862 makes America in 2013 look like a sing-along. In 2013 we talk about division and incivility. In 1862 it was secession and civil war.
One of Lincoln's virtues was patience -- with the American people, with himself, with an arrogant and insubordinate Army commander. He withstood fierce criticism from many quarters and profound doubt in his own Cabinet, the successes of Confederate forces, the fear that Britain would support the South, the death of his beloved young son and mental instability of his wife. He struggled to define the union's purpose and steel his own resolve to carry it out, and bring a majority of the people with him. His passage from the beginning of 1862 to the beginning of 1863 and the Emancipation Proclamation was hard and harrowing.
What was the current shutdown about? It began with Obamacare, which is not a threat to the republic, but a law and an attempt to provide health insurance and care to millions of Americans who don't have it. Threat to the republic? Go back to 1862. The Affordable Care Act doesn't remotely qualify. It's a law, subject to change over time. That's perspective, and Alaskans can be glad that both of our senators, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, have some.
Over the long haul our deficit spending is a threat to our future, but we can manage that through negotiations. We'll fight over how to do it; it's the American way.
But if our leaders keep a sense of perspective -- which the House tea party caucus sorely lacks -- we won't have to waste our patience on silly shutdowns and the risk of self-inflicted damage to our faith and credit.
After 1862, Lincoln would have looked at this "showdown" and yawned. Let's work it out.
BOTTOM LINE: On the brink? That's civil war, not Obamacare