The Constitution should have provided for a Court of Public Opinion where citizens could sue elected officials.
If the judge decided there was a serious charge that deserved a public airing, the official would be compelled to appear, be examined and cross-examined, and respond to questions from citizens. The court would not assess damages or impose penalties, but it could require an offender to wear a dunce cap in public for a day.
I would sue Speaker John Boehner, the leader of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
In my complaint, I'd assert that the oath of office requires Boehner and all members of Congress to support the Constitution and the government of the United States. Further, I would argue, that by refusing to fund the government as part of his party's campaign to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, Boehner and his GOP brethren and sistren are undermining the viability of the United States and risking its financial future.
Once Boehner took the stand, here are some questions I'd ask:
Speaker Boehner, we have read that you really didn't want to close the government but were forced to by a small cadre in your party. Wouldn't you agree that leadership, the one you must exert as speaker, requires guiding followers to a course of action you can support instead of placating a rowdy minority?
Speaker Boehner, since March of this year, House Republicans have refused to assign conferees to meet with the Senate to reconcile budget and financing plans for the country. Given that, how are we to believe anything other than that you and House Republicans are deliberately undermining the operation of our government?
Speaker Boehner, House Republicans have voted at least 40 times to abolish the Affordable Care Act -- and gotten nowhere. How does the Senate's refusal to agree with you on a single measure justify a government lockdown?
Speaker Boehner, you and I know that holding up something another group wants unless it does something you want is called "taking a hostage." In the current situation, the hostage you have taken is the federal government. Could you please explain to this court why anyone should approve your strategy, which has created economic uncertainty and interrupted services because others refused to agree with you on the health care law?
Speaker Boehner, the government of the United States will run out of money later this month unless Congress authorizes an increase in the debt ceiling -- how much the nation can borrow to meet its obligations. A default represents a much greater danger to American families than the government shutdown because it would shake the financial markets' confidence in the United States, decrease the value of the dollar, and significantly weaken the savings and earnings of hardworking Americans. You tell us now that you don't intend to do that -- but in the past you've changed your mind when some in your party threatened to topple you as speaker. What kind of assurance can you give Americans that you and your Republican House members will not let the United States default? That you will not risk inflicting widespread damage on American families?
Speaker Boehner, is it correct that while hundreds of thousands of other federal employees are going unpaid until the government reopens, members of Congress, like yourself, continue to be paid?
Would anyone like to serve as Mr. Boehner's defense attorney? I'd be glad to debate in the Court of Public Opinion -- which in our democratic system includes the pages of a newspaper.
Peter Goldmark, a former budget director of New York State and former publisher of the International Herald Tribune, headed the climate program at the Environmental Defense Fund.