I have always taught my students that the trick of understanding representative democracy is to understand that in system governed by the choices of citizens, we typically get the government we deserve, if not the government we want. That's a fundamental truth of self-government: citizens must abide by the choices they make.
The prospect of not teaching American Government for the first time in more than 20 years gave me some anxiety this summer. Sure, there were times when explaining certain concepts (looking at you, Electoral College) to teenagers was daunting, but mostly I loved studying politics and government with my students.
But as October 1st arrived, the federal government was shut down for lack of a budget deal. The Tea Party cheerfully rode the waves of their rigid ideological ignorance right toward the prospect of American debt default. These days, it's gotten a whole lot easier to not be teaching about government and politics. Certain things about Congress that are hard to understand (committees in Congress, the power of rural states in the Senate, the advantages of incumbency, the nature of House districts) seem easy in comparison to today's party-driven failure to compromise on matters of grave importance to the nation and the world.
I see in the Tea Party Republicans a fundamental ignorance about the system of government we have and an irresponsible refusal to embrace our founding mandate to compromise. The comparatively less ideological Republicans will speak about the damage being done to their party and the Congress (thanks, Senator Lindsay Graham for at least saying it), but there is little evidence of a responsible leader who will demand that the Republican party rise above the fray it has created. Democratic hands are hardly clean as the party reaps the results of their years of refusal to defend the positive good that government in this nation has been able to accomplish. In my fellow citizens I see a mounting frustration with our government, as if none of this is our fault.
Mostly I see a nation and a system of self-government that is profoundly disappointing. We are better than this, I have always thought. But these days, as we approach a level of irresponsibility that seems unthinkable, I've even begun to doubt that. We may very well be getting the government we deserve.