Culture Wars: The Holdup Between Americans and a Functional Government

Who loses if the federal government shuts down? Will it be the Republicans who will be viewed as too much in the grip of Tea Party extremes to govern responsibly? Will it be the president's party who will be attacked for their excessive spending?

No, the losers will be the American people who rely on a functioning government. The rest is just politics.

It seems that federal benefit checks will still be sent out, at least in the near term (although there is some question of disruptions to state unemployment support that relies on federal dollars). Guards will still patrol our borders and federal prisons. Emergency response forces aren't being sent on furlough.

These are called our "essential" government services - but really, they are our "immediate" services. There is plenty that may be less immediate in what our government does on our behalf, but it's still "essential." And those are services that are threatened by this impasse in Washington.

I think it as essential that we inspect meat because we can't rely on pork producers to police themselves. Meat production won't stop during a shutdown, but our inspections will.

I believe it is essential the EPA continue to enforce environmental laws, because the harm done to our health by corporate negligence over the long-term is more devastating, if less sensational, than the losses we suffer due to natural disasters.

And while there may be no immediate need for it, I believe it is important for the "essence" of our country that American children can accompany their families to Washington, DC, to learn about our past, develop pride in our history and have their curiosity awakened by the tremendous offerings of the Smithsonian. Conservatives can call me hokey; my liberal friends can call me jingoistic; but creating an American national narrative is vital to our nation.

The point, though, is that we don't need to choose between emergency response and the Smithsonian, between air travel safety and safe drinking water. We can do them all. We should have robust debates about what roles we assign to a federal government - and we do. The government's role in ensuring access to healthcare, in policing the financial industry, in stimulating the economy and in curbing climate change are discussed at length in Washington, and are debated through our elections.

Similarly we should have debates about Planned Parenthood, NPR, and the other culture war battles that rile up the Right and the Left.

But the eve of a government shutdown isn't the time to have all those debates at once. Yet, it's the Republican objection to funding Planned Parenthood that is supposedly one of the sticking points that may bring our government to a halt. The funding Planned Parenthood receives isn't a tenth-of-a-percent of the amount being haggled over, but this debate isn't really about the numbers - it's about a continuing clash of values that animates partisans on both sides of the aisle.

There are other times to fight a culture war. There is a long run-up to finalizing a budget during which these values are debated. There are endless legislative fights, and heated election campaigns, which give people the chance to grandstand about reproductive health. But right now, as we are about to see the government of the United States grind to a halt, is a time to crunch numbers, find compromises… and not let the minuscule amounts spent on Planned Parenthood, public television and other hot button topics stand in the way.

This is the time to ensure the government can keep doing what we, the people, need it to: "provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." There may be a few fringe voices chanting "shut it down" outside the Washington Capitol, but the overwhelming majority of Americans want a government that keeps working for us.

And a vast majority of elected officials want to keep working for us…which means they should do what they can to keep our government up-and-running.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."