Creating a National Crisis - What's the Story?
Wall Street, 1927
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Tea Party Republicans met in caucus agreeing to illustrate the unlimited importance of stories on a global scale.

I never really read that as a headline during the exhausting arguing that has the nation's lawmakers in its current apoplectic fit, but that is the meaning that I gained from the news. It is extremely easy to look at their efforts as either heroic or totally misguided as demonstrated by any sampling of the words that have been devoted to the efforts of congress to find a way to create a national budget that can gather enough votes to pass both houses of congress. Consider a some of the real headlines from this week's news:

John Boehner's Last Greedy Move
The Problems Are Just Starting for Obamacare
Playing the Racism Card in the Shutdown
The Presidency Is No Place for Amateurs

Follow the links if you must, but the text with these headlines will not do much more than reinforce whatever view you began with. Small wonder that both side of the budget battles have grown frustrated with reporters and tried to remind them that this is not a game. Our problem, living outside of the beltway, remains that we do not have a story that makes sense other than the story of the reality soap opera. To truly understand the events and what they might mean for the future of the country, we need a story that provides us with understanding of both sides.

Consider the dominant story line coming from those who want to get the government open and running again. They proclaim that the Tea Party Republicans are incomprehensible in their willingness to destroy the reputation of the United States and its dollar. The explanations range from overt racism to religious zealotry to unfathomable ignorance. The over riding theme settles in the realm of exasperation as people struggle to find a narrative that helps them understand the twenty per cent of the American population that is prepared to do anything it takes to change current policies.

The reverse point of view contains no reliable narrative either. Attempts to explain Barack Obama as an African, totalitarian, communist with plans to bring down the country resonate with the same level of angry misunderstanding that marks their opponents. Neither side has a story to tell that allows the opposite side to have a human value that is being expressed. Without a joint narrative, there is no place for a compromise or a resolution to the problem.

By way of comparison, think about what you had to do in your own thinking to understand why someone would fly a plane load of passengers into the side of the World Trade Center. Most of us jump to the conclusion that those people were “crazy” because we lack a narrative that contains the level of anger needed to kill ourselves and thousands of other people for the sake of making a political statement. It stretches our imagination to the breaking point to even contemplate what that amount of anger and hatred must feel like, so we take the easy way describing it as insane.

The trick for story tellers and for people who want to understand whatever happens in their world requires that we seek a story that explains the behavior while preserving human dignity for the those we disagree with the most. When our story tellers join in the name calling and dismissing large parts of the public, we fail to provide discussion that drives our culture. The name for this is stereotyping. Whenever you remove the story of the group and resort to using the group's name as an insult, you rob the group of their humanity.

The closest most people come to the kind of rankerous arguing that currently dominates Washington is a contentious divorce. If you have not been involved in one, you have watched a couple tear themselves apart for months or years before they finally can put it behind them. This is a particularly appropriate comparison for the budget battles 2013. Remember how similar that couple was to the democrats and republicans in the way they speak about each other, the way accusations are tossed around, the willingness to explain actions as a response to the actions of the other side and mostly, just blaming without accepting any responsibility for the situation.

Using the narrative of a bitter divorce, it becomes easier to make sense of the dynamic that is taking place in Washington. Start with democrats and republicans as the long term couple. The republicans got involved in an affair with the Tea Party that completely changed the dynamic into an uneasy menage a trois. The Tea Party paramours delight in reminding republicans that without them, they would not have control of the house. The in fighting and petty bickering about who controls what and who will get what part of the power when the settlement is finally forced on all the parties has become the reason that the congress gets up each morning to rejoin the fight. The combatants get indignant when someone on the outside suggests that the problem would be resolved with mediation or swallowing some pride, because, after all, this is not a game!

I have tried to make sense out of the stalemate that has prevented congress from doing the one thing it is supposed to (passing a budget) for many years. I could assume we have managed to elect over 500 crazy people to run the country, but our representatives are capable and clever people. There has to be a story that explains why there is so little agreement when 80% of the people voting just want the problem solved. I think of people who I have known who were otherwise bright, capable and compassionate who spent years fighting for every penny and second of childcare time that could be scraped out of the situation. I know how hard it is to give up anything that aroused such passion and singularity of purpose, even when it is clear that those feelings have turned into bitterness and opposition.

The only narrative that makes sense is the narrative of the jilted lover, the spouse caught cheating or the abused partner finally moving toward the door. Consider the struggle for power and affection that is going in DC because it has less to do with the ACA and the budget then it has to do with who controls the republican party and how the two parties work and live together under the capital dome. When I look at the whole situation as an inside the beltway struggle that has nothing to do with votes, elections or course of a nation, I can see the humans that are working to accomplish a goal rather than crazy people pursuing self destruction.

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