The Third and Most Deadly Plank

I know that merely suggesting that we restore, revitalize, or reinvigorate any part of the federal government is enough to cause my libertarian readers to have to take long naps with cold washcloths on their foreheads lest they have an aneurysm.

But I keep thinking about FEMA and how, of all of the federal agencies a person in the midwest has to deal with, FEMA was the least noxious.  After the ’93 flood, there was enough anger to go around and I remember how people were almost homicidally enraged at the Corps.  But FEMA?  My impression was that FEMA worked.  They came in; they did what they were supposed to do; they were a big bureaucracy; but people could navigate it.

And I am convinced that when folks who had dealt successfully with FEMA in the past saw what happened after Katrina it was, to them, indisputable evidence that something was very, very wrong in Washington.

I know that folks argue that we should not depend on the federal government to do what charities and ordinary people are capable of.  But look at the Gulf Coast.  After Katrina, there was an out-pouring of money and people the likes of which I’ve never seen before. There are still charities and church groups down there working just as hard as they can.  And it’s not enough.  It’s been two years and nonstop work by various NGOs (in the literal sense) and it’s not been enough.  There just aren’t enough people, not enough organization, not enough coordination.  We need something the size of the federal government to deal with that stuff and to be able to deal with that stuff.

Also, as anyone can tell you who works for organizations dependent on charitable giving, people send their money to the cause that grabs their hearts right now.  Your ability to get help in times of disaster should not be dependent on your ability to grab headlines and keep them.

We also have to consider, now that it’s clear that we’ll be in Iraq indefinitely and the war drum beating on invading Iran (Our motto: “Securing peace in the Middle East by giving people who hate each other a common enemy they hate worse!”), that the VA must work.  No sending out letters subtly encouraging vets to kill themselves.  No leaving vets lying in fly infested rooms.  None of that nonsense.

The way I see it, the only way for a government as large as ours to work for a country as big as ours is for there to be a constant source of tension.  I think that, in that regard, the Founding Fathers were wise to develop three separate branches of the government that, by design, check each other.  That’s great.

But it’s our duty as citizens to check the government, to monitor it and make sure that it does what it’s supposed to do, what we want it to do, and that it doesn’t get out of control.  And that’s not an easy job, but it’s one of the most important ones we have.

It’s wise to not count on the government, but at the same time, we should be able to strive for an accountable government we can count on.

13 thoughts on “The Third and Most Deadly Plank

  1. Pingback: Volunteer Voters » Charities With Public Relations Departments Like You’ve Never Seen

  2. It annoys me to no end when people say to me, “I don’t think the government should do x, y, or z. I think we should do that — churches and non-profits.”

    You know, just what do these folks think the government is, a building somewhere? Government is “we.” “WE” are the government. Churches can’t do it all, and neither can non-profits.

    On top of which “we all” benefit from things the government does, like protect the environment, keep the elderly off the streets, care for the disabled, educate children, etc. And if we all benefit then maybe we all should chip in a few pennies to pay for it, instead of leaving the funding to those folks with religious, moral or other reasons to donate to a charity.

  3. Southern Beale, you bring up a point I hadn’t considered. Paying taxes makes people unhappy. A certain strain of libertarianism (cough*Exador*cough) loves to see people miserable.

    If tax paying is an easy way to spread around misery, shouldn’t more conservatives support it?


  4. “We” do things of our own volition. The Government may be “we” because of the fairy tales we’ve told about Government being “of/by/for” the people.

    Yet the fact remains that the balance of power rests firmly in the government’s favour and that government can therefore use force to compel people to comply with its agenda.

    That takes the “we” out of it.

  5. Disaster relief can be managed well by government – but why does it have to be federal government? The state government in California managed the situation with the fires very well. The state government was even responsible for coordinating the federal aid.

    Local governments are more accountable than federal governments, and I would rather see them used whenever possible.

    The argument that people won’t give money to needs not making headlines applies to both charities and government. If a person won’t agree to provide ongoing donations to development charities (as opposed to only donating for disaster relief), why would they agree to provide ongoing taxes for the government to organize the same kinds of development programs? It’s their same money going to the same work.

    The whole government vs. NGO issue is, to me, just a diversion tactic from a society that has largely abdicated its societal responsibilities – most people give only a small portion of their income back to society through any means (taxes and charity donations).

  6. Properly run, the Govt has no power. It is cliche’ perhaps to say that the power resides with the people, but that IS the way it was set up. Still, the Govt has nowhere near the power of huge corporations, or even individuals with a lot of money. They simply buy off those elected officials to advance their agendas. Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that Corporations have anywhere near the constraints that the Govt has. many have their own police force, try stealing a Fed Ex truck if you don’t believe me. Also, with so many lax media ownership laws, they simply buy up enough market share to control a message.

    Hopefully, our Govt will still have enough power to insure that most of us do not lead lives of indentured servitude, which we would in an unfettered “market.”

  7. I just feel like, if that’s true, Coble, then there’s no hope. What’s the use in even voting or giving a shit in general?

    And that is how you relinquish your power.

  8. Put down the Malthus and slowly back away from the Hobbes. Yes, governments hold the balance of power (they with the army and the capital punishment and the prisons and whatall) which is why it’s important that we fill government positions with people who are not rat bastards and occasionally take on the burden of office-holding ourselves. Happily, governments do not hold a monopoly on force (however one construes that term). There are all sorts of effective ways to resist measures with which the bulk of people do not agree and to develop policy agendas that the bulk of us can live with. As Mack points out, that’s how our system is designed — to be an argument without end.

  9. I second that, Missus. I will also add that you should not take anything that you see and hear in corporate media at face value. Question all information that comes to you, especially from sources that operate with a profit motive.

  10. That’s all very true, bridgett, but the monkey wrench is that it depends on a knowledgeable, involved electorate.

    Of which, we are lacking in spades.

  11. Doing my part to turn that around, baby…

    This does bring up a couple of larger contextual points about the corporatization of everything. First, I think people have purchased themselves into a bad case of time-starvation because they have to pay for a lot of plastic crap that they don’t need but that they want and have gotten generous credit to buy. Corporations not only make gobs of money stimulating and accomodating those desires and loaning money but also have gotten incredibly powerful because people working 60 hours a week to make ends meet are not there to check them. Who profits from sustaining our national case of fucked up priorities?

    Second, I am not a shareholder in my government — by which reasoning I could ask it to perform for me and produce the conditions whereby I can have a comfortable life if I invest x amount of taxes and don’t ask where the sausage is coming from — but that’s sort of where the collective American head seems to be. The slide from stakeholder to shareholder has been extremely detrimental as it’s led to (yes, wait for it) uncritical expectations of entitlement on one hand and (but the other shoe drops) a mischaracterization of taxes as a purchase price for goodies that only certain people should be receiving.

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