As I scrolled through yesterday morning's Facebook feed, littered with descriptions of how the government shutdown is hurting a far flung cross-section of people, it occurred to me our elected representatives, on both sides of the aisle, are behaving like children.
It just so happens I have some experience dealing with recalcitrant children and so I've drafted a short plan for encouraging better behavior and avoiding governmental gridlock.
1. Immediate Consequences. Even pet owners know consequences for bad behavior should be immediate and relate directly to the bad act.
If my children refuse to eat dinner they don't get dessert. This consequence wouldn't be nearly as effective if, say, their refusal to eat dinner meant the neighbors didn't get to eat dessert.
If Congress can't pass a budget, they should go without pay. Immediate. Connected. Consequence.
2. Time Outs. Time spent alone is an effective, nonviolent reminder that your inability to play nicely will result in a set period of time where you are disengaged from all your normal activities.
Elected officials who engage in bad behavior could take a time out in their office (minutes equal to their age, of course).
Maybe they'll miss a vote on the floor. Maybe they'll miss two. I can guarantee the parenting public will reap the benefits by seeing a pleasanter Congress that knows its boundaries and how to be first time listeners.
3. Bad Behavior. Of course we'd need to define what constitutes a time out-worthy offense. Since Congress can't even agree on a budget, I'm under no illusion they'll be able to agree on something as basic as behavioral guidelines.
Don't worry, elected officials! My son's third grade teacher has a list of expectations that are similar to those that have decorated classrooms every year since my children started Kindergarten. Even if you can't agree, the rest of us can, have and will expect you to comport yourselves with dignity and respect equal to that which is required of our nation's school children.
4. Loss of Privileges. I admit it. Sometimes time outs and immediate consequences aren't enough.
Those are the times when I have to dig deep into my parental bag of tricks. Phones and screentime are a favorite privilege of my children which means they're first on the parental chopping block.
Clearly, threat of not being re-elected is not a sufficiently immediate consequence (see point #1). But that doesn't mean our elected officials don't have privileges they enjoy.
Their staffers, their drivers, their exclusive access to the Congressional café? It doesn't have to be a one-size fits all answer, but like a good parent, I have faith a good group of constituents would have that special insight necessary to determine their Congressman's favorite privileges and then deny them until good behavior (the kind on classroom walls throughout the country) is achieved.
5. Perspective. I want my children to understand their desires aren't the end-all, be-all.
Yes, I know that new Skylander is really, really cool and possession of it might open up all kinds of video game doors, but we can't drop everything to go buy it RIGHT THIS MINUTE because we have things like homework and dinner and the daily grind of life that takes precedence.
And yes, Congress and President Obama, I understand Obamacare either (depending on your political viewpoint) needs to stay in place, as is, because it's really, really cool and will open up all kinds of health care doors or the failure to defund it will be the end of modern civilization.
But I also have the perspective necessary to understand we shouldn't drop everything to have it pass RIGHT THIS MINUTE because there are people who need their paychecks to buy the groceries required to make dinner and dying, indigent people who can't get treatment until their Medicaid forms processed.
No parent worthy of the title would put up with this behavior from their children, so please, legislative and executive branches, get a grip on your perspective and put an end to your Capitol Hill tantrum before it grinds our country into an economic standstill.