Henry Kissinger used to quip that if he wanted to call Europe, what number should he use? Well he should have tried to call America during the recent government shutdown. If he had (as I did to express my frustration) he’d have heard a polite recording from the White House switchboard.
“Hello, you've reached the Executive Office of the President. We apologize, but due to the lapse in Federal funding, we are unable to take your call. Once funding is restored our operations will resume. Please call back at that time.”
To say that I was stunned is an understatement. The switchboard of the mightiest country in the world was closed.
It was also very disappointing because there were a number of questions I wanted to ask the President – some of which continue to puzzle me.
For instance I wanted to know the real reason why America’s most elite covert military force - the Navy Seals - had to abort its mission of capturing a terrorist leader on October 5th from a village in Somalia. Newspaper reports have suggested that the Seals didn’t want to kill civilians, a large number of whom had turned out on the beach to watch the firefight. But I don’t believe this explanation because a village by definition is full of civilians.
I'd also wanted to ask the President about the lack of resources in the Federal Reserve during the shutdown. The Fed’s hand on the tiller is crucial to ensure that the ship of state keeps sailing towards economic clear waters. But during the shutdown all but 3 statisticians at the Fed were furloughed and important reports such as the weekly jobs report were no longer being produced. The Fed was sailing through our still choppy economic waters blind.
I wanted to ask the President why the Fed could not have called back much of its civilian work force, as the Defense Department had done. I suspect most Americans would consider jobs and benefits to be at least as important as guns and bullets.
I’d really have liked to ask a number of questions of Congress too, but to paraphrase Mr. Kissinger, “If I wanted to call Congress – what number should I use?”
Still, it’s no laughing matter that for two weeks America really was closed for business.
Now, I know you can’t just call Congress - you have to call individual members of Congress instead. And I suppose the White House Switchboard is up and running again. But I don’t think I’m going to be calling with my questions again any time soon. For now at least, I’ve lost a little faith in the system.