Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Sequestration and a Failure of Leadership
March 15, 2013
By Aaron Korthius
This article originally appeared on SharedJustice.org, a new online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.
The similarities between Honduran and U.S. politics are not often a cause for reflection in my life. The issues at stake and the types of relationships and power that shape policy seem to hold little in common. But last month, as U.S. policymakers failed to create a deal to address impending budget cuts—cuts that are now official—I realized from afar in Honduras that the politics of my home country share many of the same characteristics that cripple and exacerbate the problems facing the country I currently reside in.
Honduras currently suffers from extreme levels of violence and has world’s highest homicide rate. Over the past year, politicians have failed to act in concrete and meaningful ways to stem this violence, and the country’s deteriorating public security institutions have done little to address the country’s most serious problem. Simply put, Honduras’ leaders have failed to care for the common good of the citizens they represent.
As I watch the political gamesmanship taking place in our nation’s capital, the sad reality of similar apathy for the common good is blatant. In an unusually emotional editorial, David Brooks pointed to this recurring difficulty, lambasting the president and the Republican Party for dancing around the problem of $85 billion in cuts to basic government services for political gain. This political jockeying and rhetorical exchange raged as it became evident the discretionary spending cuts were imminent, with Republicans attempting to toss the hot potato in the president’s lap with a measure that would force Obama to decide which programs to cut, thus reaping the political consequences.
In once again failing to reach a decision and ignoring our country’s biggest problem—a massive and unsustainable debt—American politicians behaved like their Honduran counterparts, brazenly ignoring the common good of the very people that brought them into office. This principle is central to the concept of justice that the Center for Public Justice articulates as the guiding norm for government activity, and thus provides an excellent means of measuring our leaders’ current shortcomings.
The sequestration now taking place affects many important services that present problems for the entire public. The New York Times published a helpful article in the week preceding the cuts that noted that services such as air-traffic control, meat inspection, public university research, national parks and customs services are likely to be affected; such services, whether directly or indirectly, affect the quality of life in the U.S. and represent a clear danger for the nation’s common good.
In addition to funding suspension for such important services, these discretionary cuts ignore the nation’s long-term crisis. “Sequestration,” notes Brooks, “carefully spares programs like Medicare and Social Security that actually contribute to the debt problem.” In disregarding this problem, the Republican controlled House and the president have sent the people a message: “the buck does not stop here.” Our nation’s leaders continue to fail in their mandate to uphold public justice—and by extension, ensure the common good of its people—thereby threatening justice itself, in its varied and complex forms.
How so? If Congress cannot address matters of distributive justice, the U.S.’s long-term ability to care for its neediest and disadvantaged members will be rendered meaningless. If politically convenient sequesters continue to define the nation’s budget cuts, effective and efficient cuts to institutions like the military cannot be enacted to refocus spending on new threats like cyber-warfare (an obvious threat to the common good, given its implications for disrupting everyday life). These are just of a few examples of the long-term threat that this inaction poses to our common good as a people.
Last month, as the last hope of a deal fell-through, Congressional and executive leaders promised to “end the budget wars.” Recent weeks have also provided encouraging signs of cooperation on immigration reform, a long overdue matter of justice for the U.S. But like Honduras, where many thousands are dying every year due to government apathy regarding the common good, the inaction of our nation’s leadership will soon affect our everyday lives, and in the long-term, our ability to ensure justice for the neediest in our own society. As responsible citizens, we ourselves must not remain apathetic regarding government’s failure to abide by its norm, but must instead encourage our leaders to act in concrete and meaningful ways to reach a consensus (like the one emerging on immigration) that addresses the common good.
-Aaron Korthuis graduated with a political science degree from Whitworth University in 2012 and is currently working for the Association for a More Just Society in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”