These are the best of times. Wait, that’s not true. These are the worst of times for anyone worried about the federal government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act.
Whose fault is it?
Those lefties in Decatur say the Republicans are responsible for the closed federal parks and furloughed workers. Their conservative counterparts in Marietta blame that dictator in the White House, aka President Obama.
With an apology to Charles Dickens, whose opening lines of “A Tale of Two Cities” were shamelessly appropriated for this column, this is a tale of two squares, one liberal and one conservative.
On a sunny day earlier this week, a curious Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter visited both sites — Decatur Square, where folks lingered under magnolias whose leaves clacked in the early fall breeze; and Marietta Square, sun-dappled and filled with moms and their kids.
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In both places, we asked: Who’s most responsible for the political standoff in Washington?
A disclaimer: It’s easy to say everyone in Marietta is conservative while Decatur is crawling with liberals. You might as well claim that the parking places in Marietta are filled with Ford Explorers and the streets in Decatur are lined with Toyota Priuses. The two towns — indeed, the entire metro area — are comprised of people with varying political philosophies.
OK, disclaimer aside.
There are political differences across the region, said Steve Anthony, a political science professor at Georgia State, and there’s a simple reason. “People tend to gravitate toward people who are like them,” he said.
That brings us to the squares. On the map, they’re 25 miles apart. Politically, they’re…
…well, read on.
People’s Republic of Decatur
The lunchtime trade had dropped off, and the exodus of students from Agnes Scott College’s campus hadn’t begun. That gave Josh Zills, who sells popsicles on the square, time to cast some blame.
The GOP, he said, had tried every legitimate means to stop the healthcare act, or Obamacare. When those tactics didn’t work, he said, the party got nasty.
“They’ve lost,” said Zills, 28. “It seems like they’re being sore losers about it, and … it’s screwing everybody up.”
Obamacare is the law, said Krupa Kanaiya, 19. Republicans need to get used to that.
“They just don’t want the law,” said Kanaiya, an art student. “If they don’t want to follow the law, they don’t need to be in office.”
Republicans are letting the tail wag the dog, suggested Daniel Bloom.
“I think they are beholden to a rather radical part of their party,” said Bloom, 47, a lawyer who specializes in domestic relations. He was eating a popsicle with his daughter, Elyssa, who danced under the leafy canopy of a nearby tree.
Would that “radical part” be the tea party, counsel?
“Yes,” he said. “I blame both sides (for the impasse) — the Republicans, more.”
Sheila Williams shares his opinion. An operations manager at DeVry University, Williams singled House Speaker John Boehner for a dose of scorn.
“Boehner is holding us hostage,” said Williams, 53, who had a late lunch on the square. “We were just getting on our feet, putting this recession behind us. Now here we go again.”
The GOP is pouting, said A.J. Norris, who knows something about childish antics. He’s director of a counseling center.
“They’re angry because they lost over the issue of health care,” said Norris, 45. “It’s here, and now they’re shutting down things because they don’t like it.”
Free State of Marietta
Janet Simpson, who’s at fault? Simpson, 59, wrapping up lunch with her daughter, didn’t hesitate.
“Obama,” she said. Simpson managed to sound like she was cussing when she said his name.
“This is not about (presidential) power,” she said. “It’s about helping Americans.”
The president needs to be reined in, agreed James and Deborah Davis. They were visiting the square with their grandson, a 2-year-old mass of wiggles named Cooper Smith.
“I think the president’s being very stubborn,” said Deborah Davis, 57. “He’s the leader. He needs to do what’s best for most of us.”
Her husband, also 57, nodded. “He has an agenda,” James Davis said. “He’s abusive of his powers.”
Obama has a “bucket list” that he won’t abandon, said Chris Smith.
“He will check things off it, come hell or high water,” said Smith, 45, an information security specialist for Cobb County. “He needs to think of this country as a whole, and not his agenda.”
Shell Brown and Kristen Oliver, pals since high school, put the onus on the Democrats and offered them some advice while the 35-year-olds watched two of Brown’s four children.
“This needs to be fixed,” Brown said.
“We pay you to make decisions,” said Oliver.
Are Marietta and Decatur forever destined to glare at each other from opposites sides of the Chattahoochee? Can this divide be fixed?
Evidence indicates that bipartisanship is not dead. And remember: When you look at a map of the metro area, Marietta is west – left – of Decatur.
Charles Culvers, take it away.
“They’re all acting like children,” said Culvers, sitting in Decatur Square. “We put them in office to do a job, and they’re just messing around.”
Kami Henson, what do you think? She was hustling across Marietta Square, but paused long to wag her finger at Washington.
“I think that it’s both parties’ fault,” she said. “Everyone needs to put on their big-boy pants and grow up.”
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, you heard her. Start with one leg, then the other.