By Penny Smith
Government shut-down. Great, show the world what a working democracy looks like. A wonderful opportunity to tout our way of life. Bravo, guys and gals.
I know, I know. We’re the good guys and they’re the bad guys. It is more a Trump Shut-Down than a Schumer Shut-Down. But I think the GOP works the spin rooms better. They have more media outlets on call. Their messaging is meaner, more direct. They’re better at name-calling and blame-gaming. And they have all those alternative facts.
So, no matter what the polls say about who’s to blame today, I fear that the longer the shut-down continues, the more likely it will be the Democrats and not the Republicans blamed for government failure. Partly that’s because Democrats are seen as the government party and the Republicans are seen as the anti-government party, except, of course, where women’s bodies are concerned. A matter for another time, perhaps.
By nature we’re a nation of government haters; it’s inscribed in our DNA. We began in rebellion. We love to bad mouth government, to blame it for our problems. Remember that wonderful chapter in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck’s pap recites his anti-government soliloquy? Or the philosophical ramblings of John Galt? Thanks to Ayn Rand, he sees government as a cabal of takers against a strong, virile, handsome, small group of makers.
Or Ronald Reagan’s famous “Government is not the solution to our problem, it is the problem.” Or Grover Norquist’s declaration that he doesn’t “want to abolish government. [he] simply want[s] to reduce it to the size that … [he] can drag it to the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
So much for public airwaves, public lands, parks, ports, highways, some fire and police services, some scientific research, disease control, most medical research, the armed forces, soft diplomacy, any diplomacy, clean air, clean water, workplace safety, worker protections, a safety net for fragile populations, public education – don’t need those, do we? No government need apply in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“We the people” came up with our current form of government, because we thought the English monarch and Parliament were despotic. We left the Articles of Confederation behind, because they created a weak central government, which proved to be disastrous and to threaten the revolution itself. We got to where we are, because our founders feared falling into the nightmare of Lord of the Flies, into a “might makes right” anarchy.
To foil those government shut-downers, we need to reclaim a good government narrative. Government is not the problem, it’s the people in government sent there by an uninformed “we the people” that is the problem. Changing peoples’ minds about the dad’burn guv’ment means finding good candidates to run for office; supporting them with time and resources; informing voters with real, as opposed to fake, facts; and continually pointing out what good government can and does do. And doing that day after day after day. No one ever promised sustaining a democratic republic would be easy; authoritarianism is easy and that’s why some people like it – until it comes after them. Oh, but by then, it’s a little too late to find allies, isn’t it?