Much of the resistance to any reform of the health care system in America is fueled by virulent attacks upon the government.
Angry people, often shouting into radio microphones, accuse the government of being unable to provide services, administer programs or manage money. There is a not-so-subtle message that government is, in fact, the enemy of the people, a threat to our liberties and a danger to our society.
When I hear such things, I think of my neighbor, Trevor, who is a Lexington, Kent., firefighter, Station 20. He is, I suppose, a government worker. He and his big red truck were the first ones on the scene when I fell on the ice last winter and had to be taken to the emergency room.
On the other side of us live two professors. One teaches at the University of Kentucky, and her husband teaches at Eastern Kentucky University. They also are government workers. My nephew, a recent graduate of Georgetown College, is now an air-traffic controller at the Louisville airport. This makes him a government worker, right?
Across the street lives a member of the Lexington police force, another government worker. My wife is a nurse at UK-Samaritan hospital; since the hospital is owned by a state university, she is, I suppose, a government worker.
When people attack the government, I think of these people. I wonder: What are these critics thinking? Whom are they criticizing? Why are they so negative about the people who staff our public institutions and operations?
Every day my mail arrives on time and in my box; it is delivered by a government worker. Every day my aged father is given his medicine, all of it paid for by a government program called Medicare. My mother lies buried in Camp Nelson National Cemetery, and every time I go there I am very pleased with the place; its caretakers are government workers.
This holiday weekend I was in Mason, Ohio, visiting family and friends. To get there from Lexington, I traveled on roads designed, built and maintained by a government agency.
This Labor Day holiday we ate food prepared in places regulated by government policies and inspected by government agents. If I had to choose between food “guaranteed safe” by some multinational agri-business or food inspected by a government agent, I will choose the latter.
Those who attack our government are attacking the people of the United States. Two hundred years ago, a great American president was born in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. On one occasion he spoke what might be the most stirring string of words in the history of American public rhetoric: “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
We have learned over and over again that large corporations, driven by the profit motive and managed by those whose only policy is “shareholder value” are not as good for the people as a government network for whom public service and common good is foundational.
The current economic crisis is a classic example of private sector greed and mismanagement bringing hardship and heartache upon millions of American people.
This is not an attack upon capitalism and the freedom of people to borrow, accumulate and invest capital. It is a defense of our government and its workers; people who work hard every day teaching children, collecting trash, mailing checks, tracking planes, fighting fires, inspecting meat, administering drugs, holding court, debating legislation and defending freedom. We would not be safe or healthy were it not for the government, which is nothing more than the people organized.
Yes, government agencies, like any large bureaucracy, can become bloated, ineffective and even toxic, but this is not unique to government. Anybody who has worked in business, educational or even religious organizations knows that these tendencies toward self-interest are powerfully present everywhere. It is endemic to organizational culture, government and otherwise. It does not make any sense to attack our government for conditions that are as present out of government as in government.
I am not afraid of our government – local, state and national – taking the lead to provide better health care. It is obvious to all of us that our current system, run largely by private and profit interests, is careening in the wrong direction. Too many people are left out, and care for the rest of us is too expensive.
I support the efforts of my neighbors, government workers, to seek solutions that will be for the common good.
Dwight A. Moody is executive director of the Academy of Preachers in Lexington, Ky.