The scene, a kitchen in a modest home, somewhere in the heartland. The time, not too many years down the road.
“Grandma, tell us about the old days,” says little Billy between forkfuls of macaroni and cheese.
“How old? Do you want to know about Elvis, JFK, LBJ, Woodstock or disco?” grandma replies.
“No, grandma, tell us about the good old days, when there used to be a United States,” says Sally.
“Oh, the good old days,” says grandma, wistfully. “OK, here goes. Once upon a time in a faraway land called Washington, lived a group of people elected to lead this country.
“There was a president and something called Congress, which consisted of the House and the Senate. The people who served in the House and the Senate were elected from every corner of this nation, to represent the people in their home towns, their home states.
“These Congress people debated the big issues of their day, and they passed laws that governed all the people of the United States.”
“Were they good people, grandma?” asks Billy.
“Yes, they were, as good as any, I suppose. But somewhere along the way they went bad. They were divided into two parties.”
“Like birthday parties, grandma?” asks Sally.
“No, child. Political parties are groups of people with similar ideas who band together to help each other get elected and to get their ideas passed into law. Birthday parties are way more fun, and besides, there is cake.
“There was a time when things actually got done in Washington, when elected officials cared about the people in their home states and worked for the good of the country. There was compromise, give and take. Each side gave a little, neither side got everything it wanted, but laws were passed, work was done, the country moved forward.”
“What happened, grandma?” asks Sally.
“Obamacare happened, child. The Democrats in Congress got it passed, they called it the Affordable Care Act, and it made a lot of Republicans crazy. They hated Obamacare like cats hate birds, like vampires hate sunshine, like Sooner fans hate Texas.
“They did everything they could to get rid of Obamacare. They tried to repeal it, then tried to get the Supreme Court to overturn it, but no matter how they huffed and puffed, they could not blow the Democrats’ Obamacare house down.
“And the Democrats fought just as hard to keep Obamacare as the law of the land. Pretty soon, both sides forgot about governing, about moving the country forward, and turned Washington into a battleground over Obamacare.
“Finally, the petty political fighting got so bad that both sides agreed to shut down the government.”
“How did they do that, grandma?” asks Billy.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” replies grandma. “But back to your question, they didn’t pass a budget, so there was no money to pay for all the stuff the government does. People were put out of work, national parks and monuments were closed, federally funded health research halted and people couldn’t get federal loans.”
“Did the people in Congress get paid, grandma?” asks Sally.
“Oh, sure. They didn’t miss a paycheck. We all hoped the shutdown would only last a day or two, but it dragged on. Then, a couple of weeks after the shutdown started, the debt ceiling fell in. Congress had to vote to raise the debt ceiling to allow the country to borrow more money, but they were so busy fighting over Obamacare they didn’t do it, so the country went into default. In effect, we became a nation of deadbeats.”
“Like Uncle Charlie?” asks Billy.
“Yes child, like Uncle Charlie. And just like the bank foreclosed on Uncle Charlie and took away his trailer house, pickup, shotgun and bird dog, China foreclosed on us. Suddenly, our national parks, the Smithsonian, even the Statue of Liberty, belonged to a bunch of Chinese billionaires.”
“Didn’t the people get mad, grandma? Didn’t they vote the bad Congress people out of office?” asks Sally.
“Mad? People got madder than Rush Limbaugh trying to cross the street during a gay pride parade. They Facebooked, tweeted and did every other damn thing on social media, but it didn’t do any good. People got mad, but they soon went right back to voting for their favorite party, not for the best people. They were too busy playing Candy Crush Saga on their phones and watching ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ on TV to really care.
“Finally, people got tired of the whole mess and decided to just do away with the federal government altogether. That’s when the states started banding together. That’s why we live in Kanoktex, and why your cousins in Little Rock live in SEC Country and why most of the northern states are now part of Baja, Canada.
“It makes me sad just talking about it, kids. The United States of America was once the richest and most powerful nation in the world. Now we’ve been split up into a bunch of smaller fiefdoms, constantly scrapping with one another over this, that and the other thing. And we’re still trying to pay back the Chinese.
“Hurry up, kids, finish your supper. ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ is almost on.”
“So what’s the moral of the story, grandma?” asks Sally.
“Elected officials should never forget that their jobs are about governing, not politics,” grandma replies, wiping away a tear.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.