Wherefore Art Thou, Harry Reid?

A government shutdown that Shakespeare could have scripted.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks to reporters just off the Senate floor on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013.

Oh, Romeo and Juliet have come to the Folger Theatre on Capitol Hill, where the darkened Capitol stands brooding in the moonlight. It stands in the short Shakespearean distance between art and life. The beautifully burnished Elizabethan theatre makes it even shorter.

Clearly, Shakespeare knew all about Congress in the year 2013 when he wrote the tragedy of two young lovers who come to a dead end. Now it can be told: fair Verona is the doppelganger of Washington, D.C.

Yes, the furiously feuding noble families, the Capulets and Montagues, came to town with theatrical timing. Obviously, Shakespeare created them as stand-ins for Republicans and Democrats, lately caught in a dangerous quarrel that never ends. What a shame for the star-crossed lovers to bear the names, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. Lamented Juliet when she found out: "My only love sprung from my only hate!/Too early seen unknown, and known too late!"

Aptly, the Folger's stylish modern production opened just as the two-week standoff over the debt ceiling and government shutdown finally closed down. Aaron Posner, the director, must have marveled at his lucky little stars. It was a terrifying thing for Washingtonians to watch, frankly, because we see the fall-out first in our town. We are fond of the federal government, so there!

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

But the Capulets, yonder Republicans, they hate the government with a passion. A faction within them hates it even more - in cold blood. This is the tea party by any other name, but it would not smell as sweet as a rose. Its leader in the Senate, Ted Cruz, played mean and murderous Tybalt to the hilt. Nice acting job, I should say, but he played "in character" as himself.

You didn't even have to pay admission to see the Capitol midnight drama, where the stakes kept rising and rising until the nation was at the brink of defaulting on our obligations. The whole world was watching and counting on the United States to honor our own full faith and credit. It was as if Congress had drunk the deadly potion from the apothecary, but we knew not whether it was fatal.

The Prince of Verona, an unseen, off-stage character much like President Obama, is troubled by the violence between the two noble houses. But he feels he doesn't want to get too involved. It might get his hands dirty or bloody. However, he issues a ban on dueling, which was a good thing. Except passions were already running too high, both love and hate. Romeo and Juliet would only ever marry over dead bodies. Friar Laurence, a sympathetic soul, fruitlessly tried to help them overcome their fate.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

In the Capitol, two adults came to their senses and made a pact to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling: Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. McConnell, head of the Capulets, had to bargain despite the resistance of the tea party and a goodly number of Capulets. So in the end he showed the nobility one hopes for in a noble. The head of the Montagues, Reid, stood strong every day, every step of the way. He played sheriff of the place, the Senate, not a role many nobles embrace. He stayed strong for Obama and for us all who are fond of American democracy. He could be in another Shakespeare play.

In an act of peace between the warring houses, McConnell announced that the weapon of government shutdowns (an action Republicans have carried out) are a thing of the past. Republicans are chastened, as the citizens of Verona were silent in beholding Romeo and Juliet, who laid down their lives for each other.

Here in the Capitol, however, our drama lacks a spark. There's still no love lost between the two political parties.

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