Allow me briefly to present myself as an employee of the federal government. At some times, I work for the government as a GS (the most populous pay-scale of the US Civil Service), an IT nerd. At other times, I am not a federal government civilian, and I do try to preserve a fig leaf of uncertainty about my status at any given time. More so officially than informally, as A) it would be inconsistent with the principles of government service to go about posting things online with some intent to hide it from the government, and B) only a fool thinks they can hide from the government, the good guys, the bad guys, the hackers, the helpers, and anybody in between. Privacy is dead — adjust to the new reality and behave as your values direct — as always.
But as a person who has served in the government (as an employee, that is) during previous periods of shutdown, allow me to offer that point of view on shutdowns:
Federal employees are the least-threatened group of people EVER. Every single one swears an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Many federal employees, their unions, their spokesmen, their lawyers, their PR flacks and their namby-pamby therapeutic culture warriors of fairness and endless wrangling for benefits feel no compunctions whatsoever about lobbying, politicking, protesting and so forth for their precious benefits, terms of employment, un-fire-ability, and so forth. Sorry, but “and so forth” is a frequent fact in detailing the scope of the federal employees’ expansive power to dictate the terms of their jobs.
It is my opinion that no union has ever been so successful as the group of unions which have their members’ salaries paid by government. This is because government is always a third-party payment system, in which it is always somebody else’s money which is spent, and with the power of the law to compel payment, few in government are required to feel a serious budget pressure beyond the merely programmatic. Fundamentally, there is no bottom line when it comes to government spending, a fact which is made ludicrously concrete when searching for a balanced budget in the government. Even states which are constitutionally bound to balance their budgets still have a hand-in-pocket relationship with Uncle Sugar, the federal repository of your — your — tax dollars.
In my opinion, the oath of a federal employee, and several of the principles of government ethics, are designed to require that a federal employee put service to country first, and I further feel that this is a requirement not understood or not taken seriously by perhaps a majority of federal employees. It is not supposed to be about us. We are supposed to be about it, where “it” is the explicit duty to the constitution that we all voluntarily embraced, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.
Not one federal employee has a duty to preserve the smooth running of government, nor to preserve the government, nor fealty to any person or office in the government. Yes, there are subsidiary regulatory requirements which direct that execution of duties shall be in accordance with, and so forth, but those are about the daily goings-on of getting the job done, not about the ultimate seat of purpose for a person in the employ of the federal government, which is the protection and defense of the Constitution.
An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” This section does not affect other oaths required by law.
(Pub. L. 89–554, Sept. 6, 1966, 80 Stat. 424.)
I am sure that there is a great deal of legal commentary and decision-making to be researched in the legality of public employee unions — I know that this is an old and much-debated topic. I also know that even President Franklin D. Roosevelt, of the big-government, pro-stimulus, unitary government, court-packing, New Deal mentality — even he found the idea of public employee unions noxious, anathema to the obligations of public employees.
On their page titled Federal Government Employee Unions, the caretakers of the FDR Library briefly acknowledge the distinction made by FDR himself between the public and private sector, and then hurry along to say that he was silent on the issue of state and municipal employee unions. They then follow that up with plenty of pro-union statements of his, not pausing to acknowledge the importance of the fact that these all concerned private sector, corporate employment.
Perhaps he found this a convenient defense, perhaps he had other methods of getting the same goals achieved, but I find it dispositive that he was at the very least unwilling to try his hand at this, which he did not shy away from court-packing and government support of unions in one of the more literally fascist schemes ever to have been undertaken by the federal government. A kind of fascism-lite, New Deal corporatism is the sort of invitation to de-individualize the American citizen, treating him as an element of labor, if at all.
The National Recovery Administration was a prime New Deal agency established by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in 1933. The goal was to eliminate “cut-throat competition” by bringing industry, labor, and government together to create codes of “fair practices” and set prices.
I do not ascribe to FDR any of the cruel, despotic traits associated with, and in some definitions required to constitute fascism, but in looking at the bundled fasces; industry, government, and labor — this bundle must be wielded by a hand, and it is invariably the hand of government. According to the wikipedia article on corporatism, “Corporatist ideas are common to ideologies including absolutism, fascism and liberalism.” This sounds a bit broad, or at least relying upon a more specific definition of liberalism than presented. After all, if liberalism is (classically) the impulse and actions taken to increase the liberty of the individual by decreasing the role of a central government in his life, usually travelling hand-in-hand with a healthy contempt for tradition and norms as elements of the present jealous power structure, then corporatism can play no role in liberalism — not a supportive role, at any rate. I privately suspect that an analysis of meta-conceptual rigor in definitions of -isms on wikipedia would reveal a bias toward softening definitions of progressive ideas, movements, and requirements, and a hardening of definitions underpinning conservative positions.
A key point is the relationship of the federal employee to the US Constitution, and the expression of this relationship in subordinate duties — and all duties of a federal employee are subordinate to this relationship. Resolving this requires a settled view of the constitution, so that various lines of accountability may be drawn to something which is not a moving target. There is such a thing as a physical constitution, it is composed of written words, which have meanings, and it sets out the structure of the United States government in concrete terms. It specifies the power structures, how to operate them, how to populate them, and critically, specifies the limits of those powers. Particularly, in the first ten amendments, the “Bill of Rights”, the constitution specifies certain rights of those governed which are not to be infringed by the federal government, or the narrow circumstances in which those rights may be infringed. It also explicitly reserves all rights no directly treated to the states and to the individuals, and removes these powers from the hands of the federal government.
These points are not reasonably debatable. The fact that they are frequently debated implies much in the way of illiteracy, incompetence, or dishonesty on the part of those who argue otherwise. This will sound provocative and circular, but I forward that it is the result of a logical closure — that is, all of the checksums add up when you view it in a certain way.
As a federal employee, I am comfortable enough with the Sixteenth Amendment opening the door to a federal income tax. It is a ratified amendment, and therefore part of the constitution. It is also old law, surviving many challenges. Finally, it is unfortunately a better alternative than many other things. There it is in black and white, and it means what it says.
The constitution established a republican form of government.
Article IV, Section. 4: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.”
This is as clear a duty laid upon the federal government as any in the constitution. Stronger than privacy, as strong as speech and guns, and requiring not one inch of extension of premises, that is, no perception of aurae, no observation of penumbrae, nor divining of emanations are required in order to admit the cold, hard text: SHALL GUARANTEE.
Proposals which run counter to this, such as the National Popular Vote, open borders schemes, and subjugation to a world governing body (take your pick) are explicitly anti-constitutional. The Constitution is not a neutral arbiter among all points of view concerning the structure and operation of a government — it is a specific point of view defining and detailing the structure and operation of a government.
Every government employee should be comfortable pointing this out. Opposed as we are to Nazism, fascism, dictatorship and so forth, we are also opposed to communism, socialism, anarchism, and so forth. These are all opposed to, antithetical to, a republican form of government.
Pointedly, this is not a political question. It is a matter of law, and it is conditional to the continuing employment of every government employee. We have mechanisms for solving political questions, and government employees should rightly be silent on these things in their official capacity, and with other restrictions laid down by the Hatch Act, among other requirements. But to argue that the federal government is required to guarantee to each of the several states a republican form of government is not political — it is a fact, and an obligation.
It is important to note at this point that the mere name of one political party as “Republican” does not equate any partisan activity with a constitutional duty – in fact, such partisan support is handily dealt with by the Hatch Act for federal employees, and officers of the military, as well as by the UCMJ for all members of the military. That’s right, the Hatch Act does not apply to enlisted servicemembers, but the UCMJ covers those bases anyway. The use of the term “Republican” is no more than a coincidence in evaluating partisan activity (frowned upon and in some cases prohibited) as opposed to constitutionally required activity.
The Pentagon during the Obama administration decided that global warming was a top-tier national security threat, freeing up top-tier expenditures and guidance to combat it. Witness the Navy’s “Great Green Fleet”, and other programs to shovel money at favored federal contractors. Mixing politics with duty is a hazardous area, and I would suspect that many high-level officials run afoul of this admittedly grey zone. But so do many low-level officials, such as run-of-the-mill federal employees who support anti-constitutional schemes.
I support pro-constitutional schemes. The constitution is one of my basic authorities not just in a professional sense, but in my personal outlook as to the roles and duties of government. Many documents throughout history are valuable in informing this point of view, including references to Justinian and later Roman Law, Magna Carta, the Common Law of England, writings of Rousseau, Locke, Hobbes, Macchiavelli, Marx, the documents of the French and American revolutions, and the Declaration of Independence. All of these are valuable — they are not all consistent with each other (Hobbes Locke, Rousseau, Macchiavelli, also the French and American Revolutions), nor is each of them even internally consistent, as in the ridiculous case of Marx, who had a bunch of neat ideas, warped by a desired social outcome to which his logic was bent. All of these are informative and important, yet even to the exclusion of the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the least flawed document ever written, none are required to be considered in evaluating a federal employee’s duty except the Constitution, and the larger body of subordinate law and regulation.
The Constitution is the one and only thing to which every law must be compared, and discarded if found wanting.
The Constitution spells out the order in which legislation must be brought forth, and how the sausage shall be made. Our three-branch, republican form of government was explicitly designed to pit faction against faction, level against level, branch against branch, and politician against politician. (I am less sanguine about the largely anti-constitutional 22nd Amendment than the 16th, but it, too is old law.) Each of the branches, factions, levels, and individuals in government is expected to do everything legal and constitutional to discharge the duties of office. Squabbles over turf in government are not anti-constitutional — they are the expected condition for the successful functioning of the government.
No President is required to sign a law with which he disagrees. That’s not political — that’s what the Constitution says. Shutdowns of the government resulting from a lapse in appropriations are not some dysfunctional nightmare scenario of a poorly-functioning government. As some people are fond of pointing out, the federal government shuts down two days every week, and nobody dies. Besides, the terms of a modern shutdown are so polished, so pre-arranged, that while politicians can make a lot of hay describing the national chaos to consume us all if government doesn’t make it into work one day, that most people don’t believe it. It has become another form of scare-mongering for political effect — suitable for gotcha journalism and explicitly partisan political activity.
And this is where the rubber hits the road.
When public employee union take to the street complaining how the shutdown is going to bankrupt an uneducated and apparently without-options federal mother of four pushing paper across a desk, this is partisan political activity. Everybody knows that she is going to be fine. For Heaven’s sake, has there every been a more protected class than the employees of the United States government? Why do these same people not also point out that if the government does not somehow resolve the issue of the day, being taxation, security, border control, then the citizens of the United States will be diminished? The pitfalls of government ought not and largely do not much concern the average American, and many of them cheer any effort to reduce government spending. Pity that none of that will be implemented as a direct result of shutting down the government, as everybody is promised back pay, in some cases even for hours not worked! Nobody in the history of ever (approximately speaking) has had such a sweet deal. Yet the upside potential for indirect cost-cutting as a result of shutdowns — that is, making the government sit up and pay attention to the political will of its masters, the American people — is laudable.
I survived government shutdowns just fine. I was comfortable, and had a few days off. These were handled by the bureaucracy to ensure that I lost no benefits, suffered no injury, faced no hardship.
Did you know that federal employees get paid for work if inclement weather results in the government declaring a snow day? No work, get paid.
Er, gotta go. I’ve rambled a bit, and should tighten this up. But I wanted to get it off my chest before the moment passed.