Wednesday, August 8, 2012
When Did "OUR Government" Become "THE Government"?
When did this happen? That our government became the government? I don't recall hearing that expression--the government--so frequently when I was younger.
But maybe I just wasn't listening too well.
And, maybe, because I was for thirty years a government employee (public school teacher) and, maybe, because my mother taught in public schools for many years (government employee) and, maybe, because my uncle was a cop (government employee) and, maybe, because so many of my relatives were in the military at one time or another (government employees) and, maybe, because my wife's mother worked for the Akron Board of Education for decades (government employee) and, maybe, because so many of my friends were also public school teachers (government employees) and, maybe, because our son was a two-term member of the Ohio Legislature (government employee) and, maybe, because our daughter-in-law teaches at KSU (government employee) and, maybe ... maybe it was because of all of this that I never thought of the government as some faceless, mindless bureaucracy whose principal role is to get in the way.
Instead, I thought of people I know. I thought of myself.
I have noticed one thing, though. People tend to like the government programs that benefit them and tend to think that other programs are, you know, unnecessary. Frills. (Similar to the same sort of thinking about schools: A frill in the school curriculum is something your kid isn't good at.)
I happen to really like Medicare (I'm on it; so is my wife), Social Security (Joyce and I are on it--as were my grandparents and parents), the State Teachers Retirement System (I'm on it; so was my mother). I like the Ohio Turnpike (I use it); the interstate highway system (I use it)--the local and state highways (I use them). I'm really glad that EMS was there the times I've needed it. I love the University of Oklahoma (my dad went there), Kent State (I went to grad school there, met my wife there, taught there), the University of Akron (my wife taught there), Penn State (I've used their Special Collections Library) and myriad other state universities whose research facilities I've used across the country. I'm glad our government inspects bridges and buildings and meat and drugs and water and air (I use them all). I'm glad the government guaranteed my son's student loans. My mother, nearly 93, still receives benefits because of my father's military service.
I've loved the city parks I've picnicked in, the state parks I've visited (Jack London State Historical Park in California, especially, where the rangers there--government employees--were so helpful to me in my London research), the National Parks I've visited since boyhood--the wonders of Glacier, Yellowstone, Crater Lake ... Government programs ... Oh, and all the public cemeteries I've visited in search of the memorials for the authors I teach ...
I loved hiking over the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska, into Canada ... the trail in The Call of the Wild ... the trail maintained, on the U. S. side, by the National Park Service.
I used the Library of Congress for my books on Jack London and Mary Shelley. The University of California, Berkeley, had so much London material for me. The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento did, too. So many other local and state and national museums and archives whose facilities I've used, whose (government) employees have been so generous and helpful ... and human.
I've enjoyed fellowship money from the National Endowment for the Humanities for my scholarship and teaching. (Joyce has, too.)
I loved going with eighth graders to Washington, D. C., on all those Washington Trips. Visiting those wonderful buildings and monuments where we listened to ... government employees explaining so many things of interest.
I could go on and on and on and on about our government, about the innumerable ways it has enriched the lives of my loved ones (among whom, I include myself!).
And what I don't like? Paying for all of it. I want it for free, don't you? Or I want other people to pay for it. And I really don't want to pay for things that don't benefit me, you know? So from the budget I want them to cut all the fat--i.e., the programs that don't benefit me, my family, my friends. I want the government to get off my back and onto someone else's. (Isn't that what we all want?)
In coffee shops I've heard people who I know have received substantial government benefits bitching about the government. What they're really bitching about, of course, are the benefits that other people get. People who, you know, are not as deserving. Freeloaders. You know the type ... Those folks who don't work as hard as we do--who rely on government handouts (definition of a handout: a government benefit that someone else gets).
But I have a thought to end with. Take a good long look at "the government," and what I think you'll notice is this: It's a mirror. And when you're looking at "the government," you're looking at yourself. And at millions of other people, just like you--only, of course, not nearly so deserving.