By: John Zogby Contributor

The good folks at PBS thought they had a good idea in 1973 when they decided to air a documentary series called “An American Family.” This was supposed to be an unprecedented inside look at a real family in the Midwest, the Louds, in their day-to-day life. And we viewers became privy to conversations, fights, jealousies, moments of triumph, and very human shortcomings. The problem was that it was not very pretty. In fact, it was awful: it was uncomfortable and painful to watch. We got to view a dysfunctional family actually unravel, deteriorate and finally disintegrate. It was terrible.

Much the same way I feel when I watch our elected Congress self-immolate during these crazy budget battles. My choice of verbs is carefully considered when I see a new CNN/ORC poll show a 10% approval and 87% disapproval rating for Congress. But my pain and discomfort in watching this latest shutdown/showdown only pales in comparison when I consider the fact that we are all watching history in the making. Not just a moment but Big History. There are very big issues unfolding here and they are much larger than President Obama, Speaker Boehner, the Tea Party, the 2014 elections. There are some huge, potentially tectonic debates here, each of which is a defining moment in our history and our future. Let’s look at these:

1. The Constitution vs. Congressional Rules – it appears that in an effort to protect the rights of the minority in both houses of Congress, we have forgotten about the rights of a majority. In the Senate, what used to take a simple majority vote to pass now requires a super-majority of 60 members. What was rarely used by members was their cherished right to filibuster. Today filibusters are standard operating procedure. In the House, we now have the so-called “Hastert Rule” which means that no bill passes that body without majority support of the majority party. Congress is supposed to pass legislation not run an obstacle course.

2. National Community vs. Local LOCM 0% Rights – the Founding Fathers knew that the principles of the American Revolution could not be sustained without a central government that fostered a bond among diverse states and cultures. They sought to build a national community out of a temporary coalition of colonies, economies, races, and creeds. But in order for this to work, the states had to give up some functions for the good of the whole. The tension between efforts to build this national community and the rights of states has been a constant in our history from the beginning. We fought a Civil War over it. By and large there has been a successful balance. But today the talk is not about a nation and community but about “my district”. It seems that some would deny legislation passed by Congress, signed by a President elected twice by majorities, and ratified by the Supreme Court on the basis of what “the voters in my district want”. This is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

3. Electoral Legitimacy – when Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were elected, they faced spirited opposition but ultimate acquiescence from the “loyal opposition”. Presidential elections are the ultimate voice of our national community. It doesn’t matter if there is a relatively low voter turnout (as in the 1980 victory of Reagan), a high voter turnout but close result (as in John F. Kennedy’s win in 1960), or the very high voter turnouts in both 2008 and 2012 (which gave Barack Obama majorities). There have been quibbles about voter fraud, losses in the electoral college, elections too close to call. But the point is that in a democracy, someone wins and someone loses. Losers have duties and responsibilities. Opposition is one of them; obstructionism never is.

This is so much bigger than a shutdown and the elections of 2014. It is about whether we live in a nation that respects majorities, elections, and the Constitution. The stakes are very high and this shutdown/showdown “crisis” is like watching the Louds all over again.