Government is Good


The right wing of the Repubican Party is trying to shut down the U.S. government this week. They might succeed. Oh, they say they are not - but that is like a kidnapper telling parents that they, not he, will be responsible for the death of their child if they do not fulfill his demands. The right wingers want to bring government to its knees.

They have sought this day for over 50 years - since the early days of this current brand of extreme conservatism began when Kennedy was running for president. I was there. I shook hands with John Kennedy and was scorned by my fellow conservatives. In time I realized that the uber right lacked a heart and lacked a sense of the common good. They understood only power and property rights. Today they seek to destroy government serving the common good. They think they are close to their goal.

I hope they are unsuccessful. But today, two days before they succeed or fail, all of America is holding its breath - either in support of the shutdown or in fear of it.

So, with deference to Gordon Gekko, here is my perspective.

Government, the group effort for common needs, is good. Government is noble. Government serves. Government is our shared effort to provide basic services for civilized living. Government, in all of its forms; government for country, for states, for counties, cities and towns has marked the civilizing path of humans - and government, history has shown, provides the common basics we need to realize our individual dreams and nurture our families.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Craig Mayberry

Sep 29, 2013

Ahh! if only it were that simple and we could look at the world that simply.  Those nasty right wingers only care about themselves and hate government and want to eliminate it entirely.  Yes, I will admit that I am one of those nasty right wingers.  I hate people, especially those that do not have any money, why were they even born.  I love corporations, the bigger they are and the more they pollute the better.  I hope the government shuts down so those same corporations can get even more powerful and pollute even more and the poor die a slow and painful death.  I hope every welfare check bounces after the shut down, that would be fantastic.  I have been waiting for this day for decades and I can almost taste it.

Now that we have all lived in that little fantasy world for a little while we can enter the real world.  First off, to address the government is good statement.  Government is good, most of the time.  Government is also subject to the same issues that corporations and people have.  Sometimes power becomes the game and not the good of the people.  The government directly controls about 25% of the economy.  They make decisions on a daily basis that have a tremendous impact on people and businesses.  Very rarely are their any checks and balances so that when government goes too far someone reigns them in.  At least with corporations, if they go too far, then the government or consumers will reign them in, but government has not such governance system.  We have seen government at its best (helping a community after a devastating flood or tornado) and its worst (NSA spying, IRS targeting).  Government does do good much of the time, but at times wields its power like a drunk bully.  All I really want is to balance the power of government and reign in its abuses.

Now a word on Obamacare.  This is going to be a disaster, the writing is already on the wall.  Not only does it increase the power of government dramatically, there is absolutely 0% chance of it being effective and accomplish what it set out to do, and better yet there are no checks and balances to make sure health care consumers are protected.  Rates are doing to go up, people will get screwed, the medical system overall will suffer.  Yes, there will be a few people here and there that are better off, but anyone that understands system level change knows that the way government went about this was all wrong and will never work.  I want Obamacare shut down now.  Not because I do not think that people should have access to insurance (they already have access to healthcare).  I do not think anyone should have to declare bankruptcy because they got sick.  I think there are major issues with our health system and I would love them to be fixed.  Obamacare does not fix them, period, and unlike a lot of people I do not give politicians credit for good intentions.

Someday when we can actually have a political discourse on the nuances of everyone’s values and when we can get into honest conversations about problems and real solutions, then we can consider it a great day.  Now we talk with generalities, blatant stereotypes, biases, etc and nothing is going to change.  Maybe a better approach to this situation, instead of assuming all conservatives want the government to go to hell, would be to ask the question on what people would do in this sort of situation.  This is incredibly tough right now.  No one wants the government to shut down, but obamacare is a disaster.  There are no good solutions going forward.  I applaud Ted Cruz and those that are trying to do something to prevent the oncoming train wreck.  Would I take the same approach, probably not, but at least they are trying to do something.  The government shutting down for a few days or even weeks has happened many times before, we have all survived, it is not the apocalypse.  We have known this would eventually happen as the gulf between the political right and political left has widen with no really meaningful middle ground anymore.  I for one will carry on each day, paying attention to what is going on in Washington DC, but continue to put my nose to the grindstone and effect what I can effect.

In one last comment to John’s last paragraph.  I assume you mean the US Government, as you are obviously ignoring the governments of Iran, Syria, China, North Korea, etc none of which you can argue is “noble”, “serves”, or is seeking the “common good”, yet are governments.  There is a fine line between good government and brutal government.  Maybe the US government will always be well to the good side of that line, but based on what I have seen it has been creeping closer and closer to the gray line in the middle.  I think the better conversation to have is what the middle ground looks like and how do we tell the difference between good and brutal government.  I wish that I could be as optimistic as you are, but based on my reading of history, the accumulation of power has always led to bad outcomes and the US government is accumulating power at break neck speed.  Maybe this will be the one example in all of history when the accumulation of immense power leads to good, but the odds are against that.  I am willing to shut down the government for a space of time if that will led to a slow down in accumulation of power by the federal government, but then again I have no heart, right John.


John Servais

Sep 30, 2013

A thanks to Craig.  I think he nicely shows what I was writing about.  First of all, we can look at the world and at government just that simply.  Government is far better anywhere than the alternative - which is open warfare and violence.  Government is good.  Period.  We can change government and improve it, but shutting it down is an act of rebellion.  And one could say an act of treason.

- Obamacare was passed by Congress 4 years ago.  The Supreme Court upheld it.  It is the legitimate law of the land.  The right wing radicals do not have the votes to eliminate it and so they decide to cause chaos and to stop the government from functioning as a hostage.  Thanks for reinforcing that point, Craig.

- Obamacare is not a disaster.  This is not a fact but an opinion held by the far right radicals - and Craig makes that very clear.  Obamacare has not started yet.  We can all have our opinions - disaster or good - but this post by Craig argues that a minority is justified in causing harm to all if they do not get their way.  A majority of Americans think Obamacare is good. 

- He writes “No one wants the government to shut down, ….”  Hmmm.  The radical right demands that either Obama violate the law and not allow Obamacare to start or they will - indeed today are - going to shut down the government.  Even more seriously they threaten to not raise the debt level in the next few weeks which would be even more destructive to our entire country.  The radical right is determined to cause harm unless Obama caves to their minority wish.  House speaker Boehner is the poor sap who controls the House agenda and is being bullied by the minority right wingers. See my original statement about kidnappers blaming parents for the death of a child.

- He writes that I assume “.. all conservatives want the government to go to hell,…”.  My post starts with “The right wing of the Republican Party is…”.  Very specific that true conservatives and Republicans in general are not being criticized.  Apparently my words need to be twisted in order to make his point.  I hold many conservative values and views that my liberal friends find disagreement with.  Conservative values are good - and respected long time conservative Republicans have distanced themselves from these actions by the radical right.

- He applauds Ted Cruz.  Thank you Craig.  I didn’t think anyone would admit to that.  Ted Cruz is the new Joe McCarthy.  And Ted is one of the leaders of the shut down the government effort.  The guy is an embarrassment to democratic governance.  Craig says no one wants to shut down the government yet supports Cruz.  Well, you can’t have it both ways. 

- He says there is no way to “reign” in government when it “goes too far”.  Yes there is.  The process is called “elections”.  Maybe Craig forgot about those.  We elect our president, senators and representatives.  I certainly think we need to improve our election process to improve electing those who represent our majority values.  But the intended check and balance to government is we the people voting in a government we want.  Surprised I even have to write this paragraph.


Ryan M. Ferris

Sep 30, 2013

I don’t know whether our government is good or not, but “shutting down” “25% of the economy” is an act of terrorism. Governments reap what they sow. Ours has sown militarism, empire, poverty, and instability for 13 years now.


Craig Mayberry

Sep 30, 2013

Accept in this case “shutting down” the government is not really shutting down the government.  All that might happen tomorrow is the non-essential personal are told to stay home, which is about 800,000 of the 2.1 million employees.  Most of the welfare system will remain intact and everyone will still get their checks.  This is a game more than anything else and right now it is about how has the best messaging.  According to CNN 46% would blame republicans for the shut down which about the same percentage that would still call republicans evil even if they single handedly solved world poverty and global warming.  The world is not coming to an and the US government can continue to expand their empire and spy on their citizens.


John Servais

Sep 30, 2013

If allowed to vote, then the House of Representatives would vote this evening to fund the government.  The House would pass the Senate funding bill.  No doubt at all.  In mere minutes. 

But House Speaker Boehner will not allow a vote to be taken.  He - and only he - has the power to allow a vote this evening. He has been bullied by a minority of extreme right wing Republicans to not allow a vote.  And so he refuses to allow the House to vote. 

The Republican leadership is hostage to the extreme right - to the Tea Party.  And we see it in action tonight. 

Maybe Craig and I have different views on what is terrible and what is a bump in the road. What is a game and what is serious.  I think that declaring bankruptcy is a disaster, not a bump in the road and certainly not a game.  Life goes on and one can recover.  But it is serious and all efforts should be made to avoid it.

Keep in mind.  The right wingers are demanding that we not pay bills that the Congress voted to pass.  That is like you and I using our credit card to buy things and then telling Visa that we have decided to not pay for the use of the card.  Or contracting to buy appliances and then later deciding to not pay for them.  And declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying for them.

Again - if Boehner would allow the House to vote then the government would be funded and there would be no shutdown.  Really.  Simple as that.

And there is still two hours for the House leadership to allow a vote.


Tip Johnson

Sep 30, 2013

One thing’s for sure, the NSA spooks are not going home tomorrow, but 800,000 or more workers will be out of work tomorrow, their checks will be delayed and the same idiots that want to hold the government ransom want to cut food stamps, too.  I mean how far do you want to grind folks into the dirt?  Republicans really seem to believe that the so-called free market is about wage parity with Bolivia.  Why else would they do the corporate bidding for a tractable labor force at the expense of their own wellbeing?

In truth, a free market benefits from a good social safety net.  It’s why Scandinavian countries have the most vibrant and innovative economies, and the highest tax rates.  An entrepreneurial economy doesn’t benefit from a system that insures you land in the gutter if you fail.  I have heard this from Norwegians who laugh at American “independence”.  They know they have access to housing, education, nutrition and health care.  They can try anything without fear of throwing themselves and their families into abject conditions.  In the US, the biggest obstacle to entrepreneurial action is access to capital and the biggest deterrent is the risk of total ruin. Hence, we cut funding for education so we can keep the jails full and let a corporate culture run roughshod over the populace - with the support of both Democrats and Republicans, time and again.

The single largest threat to the US economy is unrestrained health care costs.  Why would Republicans oppose reform? The only thing wrong with Obamacare is that it didn’t go far enough and adopt asinglepayer framework.  These metrics have been done.  Arguments against single-payer systems are hyperbolic and non-factual.  With single payer, you get 20% off the top by streamlining claim information.  There is one form instead of hundreds, and no need to use translators to convert from one system to another.  A second 20% savings comes from the efficiency of a larger group and the strength it provides to help set rates.  A third 20% comes from a preventative care model that targets and prevents the most expensive procedures, as in amputations for diabetics or pre- and post-natal attention to babies.  Our system has no incentive to approach any of these saving centers.

There are essentially four basic health care models.  The Beverage plan is the British model wherein all services are run by the government and all service providers are paid by the government.  Health care is in effect a public utility.  There is the Bismarck model, created in Germany after WWII where services may be public or private but all employees are covered and employees and employers all share in the premiums.  There is the Canadian model, in which there may be public or private models, but all payments are arrangeed through the government.  Finally, there is the Somalian model of pay if you can or die. The US uses all of these.  Veterans get the Beverage plan.  Many corporate employees use the Beverage plan, Medicaid and care are like the Canadian plan and many, many citizens may as well fend for themselves in Somalia as far as health care is concerned.

Military spending and the NSA don’t hold a candle to this health care crisis when it comes to what really threatens people in our communities, the burden of uncompensated care, our lost preventative opportunities, constraints on entrepreneurial activity and the long-term parasitic drag on our economy.  I’m sorry, but anyone that can’t see that has no business in public policy, because they are still hewing to the Animal Farm mentality of Ayn Rand.


Tip Johnson

Sep 30, 2013

It is further worth noting that Republicans are ransoming (apparently have ransomed) the government for their continued position on a law that was already passed by congress and tested at the SCOTUS.

If Obamacare is a disaster, then let the chips fall where they may.  That’s how it works, administration to administration. Don’t try to reinvent how laws are passed and implemented by threatening hundreds of thousands of workers and the multiplied economy they support.  That’s stupid.

But then, stupidity is it’s own reward.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes have far reaching effects.


Craig Mayberry

Oct 01, 2013

This is all just a game.  The republicans are not going to shut down the government for very long.  Obamacare will continue and will fall under its own weight.  In 2014 the republicans will claim they did everything they could to try to stop obamacare before it stopped itself.  Tip is right, if Obamacare is widely successful the Republican party is dead and gone, they will never win a national election again and will never control either house of Congress.  If Obamacare is a disaster then the Democrat party will be in deep trouble and the welfare state will be called into question.  Right now the republicans are simply trying to distance themselves from Obamacare as far as they can, it will be over by the end of the week.  By the way, it is better that it is dealt with now then over the increase of the debt level which is what many republicans wanted to do. 

You can whine all you want about bankruptcy and the good faith and credit of the US and how the Republicans are destroying it, but do you really think we can continue to borrow money like we are and it will all be OK.  This is a case of do we try to solve it now while it is solvable or do we wait until it is a real crisis.  Just to remind you of the details:

-  Labor force participation is at near 40 year lows, if fewer people are working how do we pay for government?
-  The federal Reserves continues to print about $500 Billion a year in money to support government debt and stimulate the economy.  At what point does that become a house of cards (right now we are sitting between $4-5 trillion of printed money which is about 1/3 of the overall economy).
-  Interest rates are at all time lows, what happens if they go back to normal level and the amount of interest we are paying on the debt sky rockets by $500B a year, where do we get the money to pay for that.

The US government is not an endless piggy bank where they can borrow forever with no economic consequences.  In a case of pay me now or pay me later, I would rather go through the suffering of solving it now then waiting until solving it becomes really painful.  Personally I would rather the Republicans focus on government spending then Obamacare, but I do get the argument that they want to distance themselves from it as much as possible.

I read an article yesterday that raised a good point. What happens if the government partially shuts down and no one notices?  So far the markets have shrugged.  If this ends up like sequestration where there was all of this doom and gloom that the world was going to end and then nothing material happened, then what.

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