In defense of government
by Kelvin Wade
Ronald Reagan used to quip, “The most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” And he would say, “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.” These conservative axioms still gain traction today. They fuel the Tea Party. Republican candidate Rick Perry said his job as president would be to work everyday to make government as inconsequential to people’s lives as possible.
All of this fires up crowds. People applaud robotically to it. Heads nod. Flags are waved.
It’s crazy that this works. It’s like going to see your favorite band and they come out on stage and say, “Music and concerts suck! It’s a big waste of time and money!” And the crowd roars its approval.
It was the federal government that waged a God-awful war to hold the union together at the cost of 625,000 lives.
The government ended slavery and gave women the right to vote. It ended separate but equal facilities. It ensured voting rights for all Americans. It ended child labor and instilled protections for children.
The government waged wars to defend the nation.
It built an interstate highway system that allows Americans to freely and safely travel state to state. It also allows commercial shipping on a massive scale.
When’s the last time you heard of someone dying in the U.S. from polio, cholera or smallpox? Government vaccination programs are to thank. Think of the amount of Hepatitis B, measles, mumps, tetanus and other diseases that would be rampant without massive vaccination programs set up by the Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Health and local agencies. H1N1, anyone?
How different would America look without Social Security and Medicare? You’d have two to three times the amount of seniors in poverty. Without Medicare/Medicaid, Americans would have shorter lifespans. And chances are your elderly parents would be living with you, taxing your resources and racking up huge medical bills for you to pay.
When you fill a glass of water from your sink, it’s the government that makes sure that water is safe to drink. It’s the government that makes sure the air you breathe is safe. Go drink from the tap in Tijuana, Mexico or take a big breath of air in New Delhi, India.
When you put your money in the bank, it’s the fact that its federally insured that lets you sleep at night. Bank robberies don’t worry you.
Federally backed mortgages have helped millions own their own homes and buy into the American dream.
Would America even be America without the GI Bill? It helped build the middle class in this country by allowing millions to go to college and get training to elevate their station in life.
You can write something on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope in San Francisco, California on Monday and a man will come to your house and take it and ship it across the country. By Thursday, someone in New York City will open your envelope. All for forty-four pennies. Government.
Who ensures that the eggs you have for breakfast or the food you’re served in a restaurant is safe to consume? The government.
When your house is on fire or a burglar is in your bedroom, whom do you call? Government agencies.
Who inspects airplanes to make sure they’re safe to fly?
Who sends troops around the world to make sure enemies don’t come here to harm us?
Who requires compulsory education and other grants and loans for students to go to school?
Who does all of these things? In many of these cases, people have to apply pressure to get the ball rolling but in the end, government acted. Somehow we’ve been hoodwinked into believing that “the government” is some huge evil entity that sits over there in Washington and plays with our lives like chess pieces.
Why in the world do people trust corporations more than government? Would BP have cleaned up their huge gulf spill without the government leaning on them? What matters more to coal mine operators: profits or clean air? Why wouldn’t all businesses cut corners to make more money if they could? How much would businesses pay employees without a federal minimum wage? Would you leave it up to Tyson Foods and other mega-food farms to police themselves when it comes to food safety? Should restaurants police themselves when it comes to cleanliness? Do we let the uninsured die? Are seniors and the disabled to fend for themselves? Should companies be allowed to put out products that are harmful to consumers?
I don’t want to live in that country.
It’s not perfect. It makes mistakes. It’s definitely not always efficient. And it’s not the answer to all of our problems. But the government gets a lot right. We get a lot right, because we’re the damn government.