October 17, 2013
Morning breaks over the U.S. Capitol as the federal government reopens after a 16-day shutdown on Oct. 17. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Morning breaks over the U.S. Capitol as the federal government reopens after a 16-day shutdown on Oct. 17. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

A stenographer for the House of Representatives had a meltdown yesterday on the floor of that legislative body and had to be dragged away. I do not wish to make light of what must be a troubling time for this woman, but, in fact, I think her response seems just about right to what she has had to witness in excruciating detail. How would you like to have to listen closely and write down precisely what it is said in Congress every day? What would that do to your mental stability?

All of us have been somewhat traumatized by what has happened in Washington; our faith has been shaken. In the past two weeks, for example, I found myself oddly changing the channel when news reports of the shutdown and impending default would come on the car radio while driving my 10-year-old daughter to school.  I do this often when stories of murder or violence come on in a futile attempt to prolong her innocence. But unlike stories of mayhem where my reason for censorship is simply a futile desire to protect innocence, my rationale for not wanting my daughter to hear about democracy’s dysfunction is shame. I am ashamed about what has happened to a system of government that I revered at her age. When I was her age (the ponderous phrase of parenthood), America passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, two extremely important pieces of legislation.  I still have the post card I wrote my parents from camp celebrating the July passage of the Civil Rights Act.

And what impression is my daughter and her generation getting of the greatest experiment in self-government?  When she heard the government was shut, she asked, “isn’t it shut down a lot?”  And her summary response to the last few weeks may be as appropriate as that of the troubled stenographer, “Daddy, those people are crazy.”