Shortly before the U.S. government shut down at midnight on Monday, U.S. Rep. John Larson took to the floor of the House to deliver a fiery oration: "Our foe did not come only to destroy our things or our people. They came to desecrate our way of life. To foul our beliefs. Trample our freedom … We will rise renewed, stronger, and united. This is our time."
Wait. That is not what he said. That was a speech by President Benjamin Asher in "Olympus Has Fallen," one of many 2013 movies in which the government shut down or the Capitol exploded or the White House was seized or the president was killed or an evil, tiny- brained man named Louie Gohmert seized control of the government. Actually, I think the last one was just a recent nightmare I had, although Louie Gohmert does exist and is, inexplicably, a member of Congress.
There were a lot of those summer movies like "Olympus Has Fallen" and "White House Down," as if they were trying to prepare us for October. In "World War Z" the president dies in the first few minutes, and the government collapses. The only functioning entity is the U.N., which is dispiriting because the real U.N. does not function in any crisis more dire than a rowdy spring break. Those young people who do Model U.N.s should start running zombie apocalypse simulations.
Actually, one did, at the University of Chicago in 2009. "It was controversial, sure," said junior Sam Fishman, an undersecretary-general for the Model U.N. "It's a serious conference. Some people got upset."
Maybe it looks a little less un-serious now. The zombies have shut down the government because they don't like a 3-year-old law that was passed, signed and then inspected for ticks by the Supreme Court.
It's really funny, except for the kids who depend on Head Start for their one nutritious meal of the day and for the parents who find themselves hovering between losing their jobs and settling for a less reliable place to leave their kids. And the kids with cancer suddenly turned away from National Institutes of Health clinical trials. And the mother whose baby requires an expensive medical infant formula ordinarily supplied by the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. OK, it's not even remotely funny.
Essential federal workers have been turned into indentured servants. They have to work but get paid in IOUs. We shouldn't forget that some federal employees are living paycheck to paycheck, like the New Haven customs worker who called in to WNPR last week. Or, for that matter, Chris Murphy. Actually, as a senator, Murphy has to be paid, as a matter of constitutional fiat. Also, we don't want him missing mortgage payments again.
Shutdowns cost a lot of money. The Gingrich Era shutdowns cost the modern equivalent of $2.1 billion. And there are hidden costs. In the second day of that shutdown, Monica Lewinsky delivered pizza to Bill Clinton and they started making out.
Back to Larson. OK, he did not make a "they came to foul our beliefs" speech. He spoke about doing what's fair and said the American people deserve to have their government open and to know where members of Congress stand.
And then he started yelling: "Do you stand with your country? Do you stand for your country? Or do you want to take it down this evening? Stand up for your country. Stand up for America. Stand with us this evening and keep this government going. In the name of fairness."
Opinions in the press were divided. Some called it "a screaming rant" while others called it "a screaming red-faced rant."
History will be kinder. It seems impossible that the man who thought now was the time to start screaming will be judged a fool. I just wish he had invoked the words of our greatest president: " 'Mankind' — that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences any more. We're fighting for our right to live."
That was President Thomas J. Whitmore in "Independence Day." He kept the government open and personally shot down aliens in dogfights. As you may recall, Louie Gohmert was played by Randy Quaid.