Mike Kastner always votes. He considers it his God-given right, and though he’s a blue-collar Democrat who yearns for the days of Bill Clinton, he has voted all over the political map.
He’s cast votes for Carl Paladino and Kathy Hochul, and he keeps up with the daily political banter at Gino & Joe’s New York Pizza on Main Street.
But when it came to the 16 days when federal lawmakers ground the government to a screeching halt this month, it just “doesn’t matter.”
“To be honest with you, I kind of gave up on government,” said Kastner, 53, as he waited for the No. 4 bus to take him home to Sloan on Friday.
Kastner just doesn’t feel that he has any control over what happens down in Washington. Even the Clinton days – that era marred by impeachment and its own federal shutdown – look rosy to him.
This is what we’ve come to. Lawmakers nearly drove the Washington party bus off a cliff, and for many voters, it was simply another day of our dystopian dysfunction.
We’ve become so accustomed to political procrastination that for those who weren’t working for the government or attempting to buy a house or trying to visit a federal park, the latest showdown was greeted with a yawn.
Sure, there were shutdown jokes and anger. People were mildly miffed that the Panda Cam at the National Zoo was deemed “nonessential.” But many went about their daily lives with little impact despite large portions of the federal government left dark.
When it comes to the federal elections next year, when members of the House will face voters, will this embarrassing show of congressional ineptitude matter? Probably not.
Voters tend to like their own representatives. Gerrymandered seats provide cozy perches from which politicians can feather their nests. And people have come to believe that, eventually, given a looming crisis and a deadline, lawmakers will strike a deal.
Two years ago, people were so fed up with the way things were going, they were camping out in Niagara Square. But where are the mass protests now? Washington has become so broken that lawmakers consider it a hardship that the towel service was shut off at the congressional gym while they toyed with thousands of people’s paychecks.
We’ve become numb to the absurdity of Washington, and voter apathy has taken root just as it has taken ever-higher stakes to get lawmakers to simply do their jobs.
It’s not that voters don’t care. Kastner spends plenty of time talking about what ails politics today. It’s that people feel powerless to fix it.
“Every day I’m still a little uneasy about it because it’s our government,” said Quinton Ryan, 27, of Buffalo. “Government makes order. Without order, there’s chaos.”
People are bracing for more. Cheryl Dublin has two children who were affected by the shutdown. One was furloughed and the other worked without pay. She wonders whether we’ll be back here again in three months, when a new spending deadline comes due.
“Nobody won in the end,” said Dublin, a retired teacher from Buffalo.
Then there’s Brandon Davis, 29, a Buffalo cook whose first reaction, when I asked him Friday what he thought of the government shutdown, was this: “Did that start already?”