I’m writing this column from the oppressive heat of Washington, D.C., so I hope you’ll excuse me if this comes off a little cranky. I was born here, at the private, non-profit Columbia Hospital for Women in 1985. Originally founded in 1866 as a charitable hospital for the desperate, pregnant wives of missing Civil War soldiers, the hospital closed permanently in 2002. You can now buy a two-bedroom for 1.5 million bucks in the wing where Duke Ellington was born.
It feels strange to be here, reminiscing about a hospital that has been turned into condos, while a health care bill that considers womanhood to be a pre-existing condition flounders on the Senate floor. But it doesn’t seem like the city has changed as much as you might imagine under the new administration. I can’t tell if that’s because I’m crossing the street to avoid people wearing red hats or if I’m still reeling from our own state’s recent catastrophe.
Given the number of hot takes written about the recent government shutdown, it would be self-indulgent to bore readers with further discussion of our spectacularly inept Democratic leadership. Luckily for all of us, as an only child, I’m entirely comfortable with a little self-indulgence. And I’m still spitting mad. Perhaps we take a moment to talk about what it means for progressive politics when you capitulate to conservative hostage tactics.
As the daughter of a longtime Republican campaign strategist, I’m intimately familiar with the lengths to which politicians will go to subvert the will of the people in favor of their own vested interests. But in the current climate, as Trump cronies try to coerce the Republican National Committee into footing the legal costs of the Russia investigation, the bar seems to have been lowered even further. Politicians no longer even pretend to follow the will of their constituents — when you fail to pass a budget because it incorporates a voter-approved tax increase, to whom, exactly, do you think you’re accountable? It’s obviously not Mainers.
But worse than conservatives who have been willing to let their loose-cannon governor “play chicken” for months are the progressive leaders who couldn’t negotiate a compromise budget that continued to promote public health, education reform, or wealth equality. With the local news writing op-ed after op-ed making it clear the shutdown was the result of a crude measuring contest, how did Democrats fail so miserably to stand up for the people who voted them into office?
The short-sighted nature of this budget is going to come calling on Mainers, and I think it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. In addition to reinforcing conservative theories that we’re more afraid of being labeled bad guys than holding firm to our principles, we’ve re-emboldened a majority-held Senate to demean and mock our values. Poor people? Who cares, they can just work harder! The mentally ill? Fine, we’ll keep the same, poorly implemented programming we had before! Prevention services designed to improve public health? Cut ‘em — public health is a made-up term anyway!
Here’s the thing — Maine is dying. The median age is 43.5 years old. We can’t retain young people, and our workforce could face a 50,000-person shortage within the next 15 years. One Mainer per day, on average, is lost to the opioid crisis. One-fifth of our children are living in poverty. It means nothing to post signs proclaiming we’re “open for business” when we’re literally shut down, and figuratively governed by a ruler-wielding clown.
Maybe I mean literally in both instances.
I can’t seem to shake the feeling that the political arena, as we know it, is dead. As I was watching the drama unfold at the State House on July 3, I kept coming back to a conversation I had with a friend who lobbies on behalf of progressive causes. She asserted over and over that nothing was certain, that nothing could be guaranteed — that the old ways of governance are dying, and that our fight to reclaim any semblance of democratic process is futile.
Part of me thinks that’s an easy cop out for a woman who bills by the hour. But a greater part of me thinks she’s right. And if the fight is futile, isn’t it time for progressive politicians to change the battleground?
Sultana Khan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org