October 4, 2013

I had a realization today: I’m taking the shutdown a bit personally.

I’m a federal employee. I work for a statistical agency that produces economic data, and I take pride in producing a timely, consistent and accurate product that informs business and policy decisions across the country. I’m also a conservative. I believe that the role of government is to ensure that people play fair, not to guarantee that they all get the same result. I often believe that solving a policy problem means getting government out of the way, rather than getting the government involved.

I have lived inside the Beltway for almost nine years, and I know a lot of Republicans. Some work in the Senate. Some have campaigned for Mitt Romney, John McCain or George W. Bush. Some worked for the Bush administration. These days, with a Democrat in the White House, many of them work for conservative think tanks and policy institutes. But they aren’t networking contacts; they are my friends. We go to church together, we eat together, we go on getaways together. We talk about politics and policy sometimes, but just as often we talk about our church, how to be a good spouse or parent, a cool new restaurant or our favorite sports teams.

Given that I have friends intimately involved in the process that brought about the shutdown, the uncertain employment that I’m experiencing seems especially personal. Yes, yes, something about leverage and negotiation and strategy, but don’t my friends realize that my wife and I just moved and are having a baby? Both of those things are expensive, especially in the District. A missed paycheck is the last thing I need. Even if they don’t care about all the faceless “non-essential bureaucrats” (as one friend put it on Facebook), don’t they care about my family and me?

Of course, this isn’t about me. But one would hope that knowing me would help these friends and acquaintances understand the impact of their political impasse on furloughed federal workers. Many federal workers need their next paycheck more than I do, and many put their lives on the line daily and deserve more sympathy than I do for the ingratitude of Congress. Surely, Republicans can find a strategy to achieve our conservative ends that doesn’t treat the livelihoods of federal employees so flippantly.

To my friends in the inner circles of conservativism: Please remember that the government shutdown isn’t just strategy or negotiating leverage. It affects real people. It’s personal.