As I said last night, government in the sense of directing and supervising public affairs, is one of the basic building blocks of human life. All cultures, no matter how small or “primitive,” have individuals in position of authority to do just that. As human groups are inherently social and do not operate according to instincts they survive and flourish because there are cultural rules and regulations transmitted extragenetically, and whether formally codified or merely passed on through language and behavior, are understood by the members. To argue, as Grover Norquist does, that government should be shrunken until it can be drowned in a bathtub, or government is the problem as Saint Ronnie proclaimed, if pursued to the ultimate conclusion, would be to deny the very foundation of human society. We can only assume that even Norquist and Reagan would have to agree that government has at least some useful functions.
Presumably we could all agree that having policemen and firefighters is a good thing, and it is also nice to have highways, bridges, schools, dams, food inspectors, hospitals, and so on. Sometimes it appears that not everyone shares the desirability of such things as there are constant attempts to withdraw funding for them, or at least reduce their funding to the barest minimum. Some of us believe it is also nice to have unemployment insurance, health care, clean water and air, affordable energy, and etc.. But these perquisites cost money and hence we pay taxes, those things Republicans constantly oppose and try to reduce no matter what. Their single-minded obsession, that they drearily repeat over and over again, year after year, is the claim that government is too large and taxes are too onerous. What a society that paid no taxes and had no supervision might be like is not too hard to imagine.
Perhaps it is true that government is too large, but like most things, it depends upon your point of view. If, for example, relatively full employment is a reasonable social goal, and if government is the employer of last resort, perhaps government is not large enough. Full employment is not a concern for Republicans. Perhaps it is also true that taxes are too onerous. I believe in some sense they are. But this has to do entirely with what taxes are used for. I don’t see how anyone could object to paying taxes for policemen, firemen, schools, hospitals, libraries, clean water and air, health care, and other such basic human necessities, but some apparently are even opposed to supporting such necessities, even arguing that government should provide nothing at all. Where I see taxes as a problem and too onerous is where, instead of using them for basic necessities, they are used to support a massive military/industrial/political system that has little purpose beyond making more and more profits for itself.
Our problem here in the U.S. is not government, it is (excruciatingly) bad government, or, one might even argue, no functioning government at all. Our current government does not provide direction or supervise public affairs. Public affairs no longer have much of anything to do with how our false government behaves. They direct and supervise private affairs, the affairs of gigantic corporations and the obscenely wealthy. Public affairs, in the sense of public interest or public welfare, only rarely, if ever, currently enter into political consideration and action. Government decides what public affairs should be and acts according to their dictates, as unnecessary and illegal “wars” are waged in the interest of oil companies or other predatory industries rather than in the public interest. When thousands, even millions turn out to protest these “wars” they are simply ignored (as was certainly the case when we illegally attacked Iraq for control of their oil, pretending it was for other reasons entirely, a pack of lies so obvious as to be absurd). The entire world was outraged but government paid little attention. A majority of the American public now wants us to withdraw from Afghanistan but we are not about to do so. Similarly, a majority is opposed to our involvement in Libya, but government does not care and will not even admit our involvement has to do with oil rather than the lame excuse of protecting civilians.
We still have a few politicians who seem genuinely concerned with public welfare, Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, Russ Feingold, for example, but they are like voices crying out in the wilderness of unreason, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Our original democratic society was supposed to provide us with a system whereby we would elect officials to conduct the business of, for, and by the people. It was assumed, I am sure, that these officials, however they might differ on matters of priority or procedure, morality or values, would all have as their bottom line the best interests of the nation at heart, they would direct and supervise public affairs in the best interest of the public. Unfortunately this is not true any longer. Our current government has degenerated into two groups, not very dissimilar from one another, who spend their time raising money from corporate donors and trying to discredit whichever group happens to be in power at the moment. Their behavior is a far cry from actually governing and consists mostly of arguing over which enormous corporation, institution, or billionaire should benefit the most from their legislative efforts. It is truly, as someone once suggested, “The best government money can buy.”
There is no longer any doubt whatsoever that our present government is dysfunctional in the extreme and no longer cares about ordinary citizens. This is not the fault of President Obama any more than the fault of Presidents and Congresspersons that came before him, especially since the Reagan presidency and right up to the present (the Bush/Cheney administration brought the degeneration of government to the height of incipient fascism). There is considerable doubt that this unfortunate trend can now be reversed. The damage done to the nation and our environment in the insane quest for profit at all costs may be irreversible. The fault lies with generations of greed and poor leadership, public apathy, and the mistaken belief that free markets would inevitably overcome all obstacles. Where the profit motive reigns supreme, poverty and misery will not be far behind.