Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg
As we look at the government shutdown, it is reasonable to ask the question: What is the underlying principle behind this event? What do the Republicans in the House of Representatives want? It changes from day to day. They want to defund, delay, and subtract from the Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare. President Obama and the Democrats in Congress want a “clean” continuing resolution that will fund the government without any changes to the ACA. Still, what is the underlying principle?
A principle is a rule that serves as a starting place for moral reasoning. Is the underlying principle of our social contract life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Is it to establish the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity? Is it liberty and justice for all? Is it: “I got mine and you have yours to get?” Is the principle for our members of Congress, reelection by any means necessary?
I say that the principle our leaders ought to use is the Golden Rule. Most of us know the Golden Rule as a saying of Jesus of Nazareth: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” Notice that it begins in everything. No exceptions. However, this is not only a teaching of Jesus. We can find the spirit of this axiom in other religious traditions.
Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.”
Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
Islam: “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which
He desires for himself.”
Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellowman.”
Kantian philosophy also has its version of the Golden Rule articulated in the Categorical Imperative:
“Act so that the maxim . . . may be capable of becoming a universal law for all rational beings.”
All of these sayings require a moral imagination that allows one to think beyond one’s own narrow self interests. In this most recent episode of government dysfunction in Washington DC, after having taken more than 40 votes to repeal the ACA without offering an alternative that comes even close to providing health insurance coverage to the 30 to 50 million Americans without it, Republicans in the House of Representatives have demonstrated little compassion or empathy for the millions of Americans who live without health insurance.
They seem not to be able to imagine the pain of people who before the ACA lived with pre-existing medical conditions and who could not buy health insurance. If they have friends or family members who have died preventable deaths because they did not have insurance coverage, they are not allowing this experience to influence their positions. Now, with the government shut down, the Republicans who insist on attaching changes to the ACA to resolutions to fund the government clearly cannot imagine the anxiety of federal workers who live from paycheck to paycheck.
The rent, mortgage, utility bills, groceries, gas, and credit card bills do not stop for government employees because congressmembers lack a basic moral imagination. And the ripple effect of this shutdown will spread far beyond government employees. It could affect us all if the Centers for Disease Control cannot do its work in making enough flu vaccine.
The Golden Rule in all of its iterations instructs us to see the truth that we are all connected. We are connected through the breath of life. It is a spirit/soul connection. It is as invisible as the wind. Yet visible in its effects—wind chimes sing; autumn leaves swish and sway; a mighty wind moves houses and uproots trees. We breathe in and out and live.
The Golden Rule asks us to be aware of the least among us because that person is us at another moment in time and space. We never know when we ourselves will become the vulnerable, the weak, and the least person. When we fail to recognize this, we do shameful, hurtful and destructive things. Such is the case with this government shutdown.