Commentary: What happens when leaders don’t do their jobs

By John Krull 

INDIANAPOLIS – Once again, the federal government tiptoes along a cliff’s edge.

A government shutdown looms.

John Krull, publisher,

Whenever such a shutdown is threatened, markets spiral and portfolios dip. People who are dependent upon government services – people needing to sign up for Social Security or Medicare, for example begin to worry.

When a shutdown does occur, as one did in 2013, the markets’ spiral becomes a nose dive and the dip in portfolios becomes a plummet. And the worry that those Americans in need of government services blooms into panic.

Once upon a time, the notion that the federal government could shut down was either anathema or a joke.

The thinking was that not fulfilling their most basic responsibilities as elected officials would have been equivalent to admitting to both incompetence and gross negligence on the part of members of Congress and the president. It would have been considered an act of political self-destructiveness, even suicide.

That was then.

This is now.

For at least the past 20 years, threatening to shut down the government has become something akin to a wild card in a poker game. When one side or the other doesn’t get everything it wants, the unhappy pulls out the wild card.

And the game – which really isn’t a game – descends into chaos.

Particularly when more than one side is unhappy, and everyone has the wild card.

In this case, the shutdown looms because some Republicans in Congress are upset about spending provisions, Democrats are mad about President Trump’s contradictory promises regarding immigration and immigrants and the president is just angry all the time.

And because they all can’t get exactly what they want, they’re threatening to throw millions of people’s lives – and the nation’s and the world’s economies – into upheaval.

By refusing to do their jobs.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

It shouldn’t be this way.

As I’ve watched the federal government continue its extended flirtation with disaster, I’ve found myself thinking of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s recent State of the State address.

Holcomb’s speech didn’t offer much in the way of entertainment value. He didn’t make any bold promises. He didn’t insult anyone. He didn’t threaten people. He just talked about what the government had done and would be doing.

It wasn’t exciting.

But it also wasn’t scary.

This is as it should be.

Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of governing involves doing those things that really aren’t divisive. This work involves maintaining the systems – making sure the streetlights work, the school doors stay open and that the checks are mailed and clear – that allow the more than 300 million people in this country to co-exist without running into each other all the time.

As Fiorello LaGuardia, the onetime mayor of New York, famously said, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to clean the streets.”

Good governance should focus on accomplishing those basic tasks upon which reasonable people agree before taking up those issues that divide us.

We can make sure passports can be issued, then argue about abortion. We can keep the national parks open and make sure children have access to health care first, then battle tooth-and-nail over immigration. We can take care of basic bits of everyday living before we tear into each other.

That’s the way government should work at every level.

But it hasn’t for quite some time.

Too many so-called leaders in both parties have decided that throwing the country into upheaval and doing damage to millions of lives makes for a good bargaining chip. They like the leverage threatening to shut down the government gets them.

Their brinksmanship has a cost.

When the government last shut down, economists estimated that it did $24 billion worth of damage to the U.S. economy.

Try not to think about all the good that money could have done you, your children and your grandchildren.

Instead, think about the fact that all those good things were lost because our leaders couldn’t or wouldn’t do their jobs.

Those same leaders are tiptoeing this nation and its people along the cliff’s edge again.

One of these times, we’re going to fall – and fall hard.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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