I’ve been thinking a lot about how people view government. It’s impossible not to when vitriolic sound bites pepper the news all day.
I was intrigued by Suzanne Mettler’s op ed piece in the New York Times today. She cites a 2008 poll of 1400 Americans (Cornell Survey Research Institute). When participants were asked if they ever used any of 21 different federal programs, 57% reported they had not. But in reality, 94% of those who denied using programs, used at least one and the average respondent had used four. It is doubtful that the majority was deliberately untruthful. They probably never made the connection.
I have to admit I’m biased. I worked in public service for twenty years so I may be a bit off base in thinking my job was necessary. But with all its warts and blubber and waste, much of what government does for us is positive, yet unseen. Roads, bridges, safe drinking water, hospital and food standards, disease prevention, permits for safe housing, public education, to name a few on the domestic front.
I want to know that when I’m on the George Washington Bridge, it’s not going to collapse and when I take a drink of water, it’s not going to make me sick, and when I get my annual mammogram the machine isn’t over radiating me.
I try to get into the head of the tea partiers who seem to vote against their own self-interest. The majority of them seem to be getting the short end of the stick when getting behind those who advocate trickle down economics. In all our history, it’s been shown that those at the top rarely spill a drop.
Yet, there is a level playing field for some things. It doesn’t matter who you are. If there is a bridge collapse, an e coli outbreak, a flood, earthquake or tornado, everyone is at risk. And we always turn to government to fix what’s broken.
With regard to our natural disasters, FEMA seems to be viewed as both villain and savior. We want the help and the coffers to be full when things happen, yet we don’t want government interference. My husband and I were in Nashville last year during the re-opening of the Grand Ole Opry. It had sustained terrible flood damage the previous spring. I had noticed people walking around in FEMA tee shirts and wondered what was up. At the concert, I realized how bad things had been. In between music sets, there was a lot of self-congratulation by the mayor and other local luminaries about how they all pulled together to fix things. I’m sure that was in part true. When Obama came up on the screen, he was booed and heckled. Would the Opry have been reopened so quickly without federal assistance? I doubt it.
Mettler concludes that if those who don’t know they benefit from government service could see that they have, it might help defuse huge chasm of polarized politics. It seems to be a no brainer.
So what does this have to do with a storyboard? Let’s take a look beneath the jargon, the out of context sound bites, misleading headlines and outright lies. Let’s start a new chapter. Let’s insist upon a game change to Truth or Consequences.