What would Socrates do if he interviewed the people responsible for shutting down the government and threatening our nation’s credit? We start with Speaker John Boehner. (The Boehner quotes are real, taken from his interview yesterday with George Stephanopoulos. The Socrates quotes are not but should be.)
Boehner: The House has passed four bills to keep the government open and to provide fairness to the American people under ObamaCare.
Socrates: A worthy endeavor! I am eager to know more about fairness. How would you define fairness, and how does fairness open the government?
Boehner: Listen. ObamaCare is a law that’s gonna raise the cost of health insurance premiums and make it almost impossible for employers to hire new people.
Socrates: So you define fairness as having to do with the cost of things, and with employers hiring new people. If everything cost less, and employers hired new people, then there would be fairness and the government would open. Would you say that the government is an employer?
Boehner: [ObamaCare] is a law that the American people do not want and cannot afford.
Socrates: Ah, so fairness is not about the cost of things or employment after all. It is about popularity and affordability. If laws were more popular and affordable, then the government would be open? Frankly, John, I fail to see the connection between fairness as you define it and government opening back up.
Boehner: Why wouldn’t the president provide fairness to the American people? He’s given exemptions and waivers to all kinds of groups of people, but he hasn’t given one to the American people, who are gonna suffer under this law.
Socrates: I sense that your definition of fairness has changed yet again. It now appears to mean treating groups of people the same as the American people. Who are these “groups of people” to whom you refer? They are not from another country, are they?
Boehner: They give big businesses a waiver. They give unions a waiver.
Socrates: If businesses were given a waiver, doesn’t that allow them to hire new people? So isn’t that fair, and won’t that open the government again?
Boehner: We’re interested in having a conversation in how we open the government and how we begin to pay our bills.
Socrates: What do you mean by “conversation”? A negotiation, or a dialectic over an amphora of wine? How will this conversation resolve the crisis? Personally, I have found that too much wine among enemies can lead to violence as easily as to friendship. But what do I know? I am interested the second topic of your proposed conversation, about paying bills. Raising the debt limit allows the paying of bills. If Congress simply voted to raise the debt limit, wouldn’t that allow the government to pay its bills?
Boehner: So it’s my way or the highway. That’s what [the Democrats are] saying. Complete surrender, and then we’ll talk to you.
Socrates: You misunderstand me, John. We are having a conversation now, are we not? I simply wondered why a conversation is necessary to allow the government to pay its bills. Isn’t this simply a matter of raising the debt ceiling to permit the payment of bills Congress has already approved?
Boehner: I and my members decided that the threat of ObamaCare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.
Socrates: You did not take a stand before this? You opposed the Affordable Care Act when it was first proposed. Or was that opposition not a “stand”? Does your opposition become a “stand” only when Congress passes that bill, the president signs it into law, and the Supreme Court declares it constitutional? And tell me more about the “threat” of ObamaCare? Does the law threaten fairness? I remain unclear about your definition of fairness, and how the lack of fairness is keeping the government shut down. Or is a shutdown more fair than an open government?
Boehner: I’ve made it clear to my colleagues. I don’t want to shut the government down! We voted to keep the government open. But providing fairness to the American people under ObamaCare is all we’re asking for.
Socrates: I admire your desire to bestow fairness upon the people of America, John. Before you do that, I hope you discover what fairness is. Ask an oracle. Do it quickly, though, so that your fairness can open the government.