Do you still have confidence in your government?
Put another way, what's your fear and loathing quotient when you contemplate government as a whole?
Primarily the Feds, but also state, even local government? Not singling out Republicans or Democrats: the whole schmier.
Do you have a vague sense too much is going wrong, and too little is going right? That too much is going on we don't know about?
I moderate a current events class in an adult education program. The other evening, I asked how many of the hundred-or-so present, had no confidence in government. I emphasized that we weren't playing the blame game.
To my utter astonishment, everyone . . . literally, everyone in the hall . . .stuck up his or her hand. This thoroughly unscientific survey of a bunch of well-informed people indicated a degree of disenchantment that is, at the very least, sad. At the worst, it's alarming.
Here's are some government activities that might be in your own list of disillusions:
-Conduct and Cost of Iraq War;
-Inability of the Democrats to oppose, even to speak with a clear voice;
-Impenetrable fog of government: secrecy at an all-time high;
-Lack of principle; crassness of those who govern;
-Corruption - actual, perceived and suspected;
-Favoritism: influence of unaccountable K Street lobbyists, and their cousins in state capitals;
-Legislatures gerrymandered into stalemate.
Some of the sore points in the Executive Branch, apart from the war include health services; education; the Patriot Act; Pentagon procurement; pollution and environmental protection; agricultural subsidies; government finance and foreign borrowing. Let me quickly make a disclaimer: We all have met public servants who work hard and long hours in the public weal, in spite of their indolent, ineffectual political bosses.
But too often the bosses, and not only political appointees, are incompetents who have arrived at power by finagling and conniving. Conversely, good-hearted politicians often announce they intend to reform departments, but the bureaucracy defeats them, and thus, deadlock.
And that's all before we consider the glaring, specific example of FEMA. Who knows what else goes on in the shrouded octopodian monstrosity called Homeland Security?
As the Gulf Coast hurricane winds and waves dissipated and the muck and mire settled, we saw the odious jockeying and name-calling among the ponderous Feds and the presumptively-corrupt-but-knowledgeable echelons of administration which run the state of Louisiana. (Let's leave Mississippi and Alabama out of this discussion.)
There was the President. There was the giant squid of Mr. Chertoff's Homeland Security and it's Mike Brown's woefully inept, confused and misguided FEMA. There was the Governor of Louisiana. There were the feisty Mayor of N.O., the Chief of Police and the cops. There were the US Army and the National Guard.
Soon there emerged the stories of early warnings ignored; of unconscionable delays and incompetence; of shipments gone awry; of appropriations misdirected.
Most important: there were the countless stories of unnecessary indignities and suffering imposed on refugees. Then there came the evacuation of Houston that delineated a total breakdown in governmental competence.
And all of it led to those demeaning scenes of mass confusion and dismay and demeaning suffering . . . scenes we might have expected to see out of the Middle East or Africa, but not from the US of A.
So . . . call for an investigation! The timeworn political remedy.
But how can a legislative investigation unearth faults that have been accumulating for several generations in "the culture" of a federal agency and have been carried over to a new department?
Where Government Stumbles
When you start to think of the subjects on which we find government lacking, the list can grow and grow and grow . . . lack of an effective opposition and fractured ethics must certainly be near the top. But, more broadly, the muscular, bullying conduct of our foreign policy's military adventurism. Overall, the financial indebtedness, and indolence of many and diverse environmental matters of the United States is accumulating. At home, we observe the nasty politics conducted by leadership and its cronies . . .demeaning to those who want to be able to respect this nation and its organs of government. Corruption has led to the denial of the public good to favor the few who have access.
Many of these topic headings seem to point primarily at the Bush Administration. But if the Bushites are guilty, so, too are the Democrats in government for failing to mount vigorous, positive alternatives: and lest you think I'm talking purely about Mr. Bush, recall the administration of Bill Clinton.
Then you reflect for a moment, and realize that, of the 430 seats in the House of Representatives, only some 20-odd are reckoned to be truly competitive. The rest have been so drawn and so gerrymandered as to be nearly foregone conclusions.
In other words, even if we become totally upset with the way we are governed, we have little recourse. It would be very, very difficult to throw the rascals or their ilk out quickly.
It can be done, but it will require 400 individual, persistent efforts. All of these factors and more lead us too often to a feeling of deep dismay, to sighs of helpless resignation.
Can we work our way out of it? Can we restore some of our faith in the republican democracy that is, truly, our birthright?
We can, but it means overcoming apathy, weaning ourselves from our overriding fixation on the tinsel of consumerism. It means getting over our self-absorption, our apathy and working to invigorate our political system.
It means paying attention to the gritty of government, starting with education and medical care and budgets, and moving on to agriculture and highways and water systems and budgets.
It means engagement in and respect for politics. It means encouraging and supporting a vigorous, probing opposition. It means banishing those who are indolent or incompetent, not simply accepting them as part of The Deal.
It means insisting on vigorous media which is not at the behest of corporations, but which take the role of The Fourth Estate seriously. And reading and watching and digesting what they report.
No fun. But vital is we are to survive as a Great, even a viable, Power.
Don't forget there are some highly dedicated nations with resourceful governments maneuvering cannily even now to take over the role of World Superpower. At least one of them owns a large chunk of our debt . . .debt we have accumulated largely because of our spendthrift consumer ways.
And we are lagging, every day, farther and farther behind.
We are to blame for this sad, sad state of affairs. No one else. It's a blame we cannot shift . . .one we have to bear. And live with.
This, truly, is what out lack of confidence in government is about: it's about us.
Bayard Stockton just turned 75 and is seeking a woman with at least 60 years who is well traveled, intelligent and sexy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.