If you are under 50 years old, you may not remember a time when government functioned pretty well and people went into government service as a calling. In fact, these days it is a radical act just to suggest that such a time ever existed.
But, Government is what stands between you and the rascals who would happily fleece you at every turn. Whether it is big industry dumping waste into public waters or big banks making off with your pensions, government is the only protection the mass of average citizens have and it should be big enough and strong enough to do the job.
In the ‘80s, Ronald Regan began the process of making government the cause of whatever was not working. In The Wrecking Crew, Thomas Frank explains how Conservatives have systematically destroyed vital government services by putting them in the hands of utter incompetents and then complaining bitterly that they don't work.
As a result, Frank says, we expect little of government service providers and less of elected representatives. By positioning themselves as perpetual "outsiders" (even when they have a conservative president and control of the Congress), Conservatives are never accountable for failures. They simply don’t bother attempting to solve problems. Whatever does not work is always the fault of someone else. Failure is just a problem of not taking Conservative laissez faire principles far enough.
It has been a good strategy and it has worked up to now. But, Thomas Frank and others are pulling away the curtain revealing the dirty tricks hiding in the dark. Once you see it, you can never go back.
(Author’s Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, well before we started hearing predictions for Hurricane Sandy. I remember that after the destruction of Irene last year, Republicans (notably Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor) wanted to “negotiate” for FEMA funding to provide aid to victims by trading other services for disaster relief. Immediately after Sandy, I heard one little blip of that suggestion and then nothing. Apparently, they decided that holding disaster victims hostage for political gain just before the election was not a good idea! Negotiating relief in the face of disaster, however, is not longer unthinkable. It is an idea that will be back.)
So now, how do you feel about the role of government in your life? Do you believe government can work better for all of us? What would it take to make that happen?