Friday, July 24, 2009

Trusting the Government

Joe and Mary are intelligent, well-educated, and compassionate people. They find each other and fall in love. A furious development of new neurological connections takes place in each of their brains, as each obsessively absorbs every detail about the other. Hormones and neurotransmitters go to work to ensure that each has eyes only for the other.

They plan a life together—two kids, financial security, plenty of time for travel—and get married. Each has perfect confidence that the other will work for the best interests of the family and (being perfect) never make a mistake.

Six months later, Mary’s pregnant (a little earlier than they expected) and Joe’s job is in jeopardy. Doubts have begun to creep in on both sides. Joe wonders if Mary can love a child and him, too. Mary’s beginning to wonder if Joe will be able to provide the financial security they both assumed they would have. The doubts begin to multiply—as doubts do—and six months later one of them files for divorce.

Trust is an essential element in all human relationships—individual and familial, public and private. Where trust is lacking, little or no progress can be made toward solving problems and achieving mutual goals.

And trust is a choice we make. Both Mary and Joe could have decided to give the relationship more time, to be patient, to maintain credibility long enough to see whether their collective projects—the child, prosperity, and the growth of their relationship—would pan out in the real world. Instead, they chose to bail.

There are parallels worth exploring between a marriage and the relationship of responsible citizens of a democracy with their elected government. One revolves around the issue of trust: it always takes time to be sure who you can trust and in what areas.

In a comment on yesterday’s post, “Sisyphus” asked,

Did you feel this confident trusting the experts when Bush/Cheney were the experts?

No, because I didn’t vote for them and didn’t regard them as “experts” on any of the matters most important to me. I didn’t see Bush choosing people highly qualified for the posts to which he assigned them. However, I have to say that, even so, I gave the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt.

I’m not sorry I did, because I know that deep distrust without reason can be counterproductive and pathological. And in all fairness, few people at the time could have predicted just how disastrous the outcome would be.

In my ignorance, my biggest concern about Cheney at the time was his heart condition and the risk to stability if he ever became president. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I wanted to trust Bush—with his military background and familial connections—to do the right things to protect the country. The benefit of the doubt is one thing, however, and blind faith is quite another. I quickly lost faith in Bush/Cheney, as did we all, and it was all down hill from there.

Bush/Cheney had eight years to betray and lose the public trust. The evil fruits of their labor were, by that time, apparent for the world to see. The chief architects of the eventual Obama legacy are just now taking their chairs. In the interest of supporting those things the administration may do well, I think it’s right—maybe not easy, but right—to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The government, after all, is only people. And as we know from our own private lives, some are trustworthy, and others are not.


pistoffnick said...

Dear Government,

Let's just be friends, OK?

Its not you, its me.

Well, actually its you.

I find your domination over me smothering. You won't let me visit friends in Cuba. You won't let me smoke certain plants in my own house. You won't let me distill my own liquor. You pimp me out and take more than half of my money. You won't let me buy the guns I want to buy, but you steal my money to buy all the big guns you want. I'm not against charity, but you take my money and give it people who, I feel, don't deserve it (like your banker and union friends). You lie to me. You cheat on me.

Frankly, I don't see much value in having this relationship. Sure you offer me protection, but, to tell the truth, I'm more afraid of your hired guns than any of the bad guys. And I have no idea what the hell you think you are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan. Yes you do provide infrastructure, but I could easily get those services from the private sector with fewer messy entanglements.

You have lost my trust long ago. Now I just want you to leave me alone.


Anonymous said...

I give no politician the 'benefit of the doubt'. They are suspect for merely running for office... any man who seeks that power should be questioned. Routinely. He could be my best friend and most trusted advisor, but as soon as he has that much power and authority, he needs to be kept in check and held accountable. John Adams even advised that, 'There is danger from all men. The only Maxim of a Free Government ought to be to trust no man with power to endanger the public liberty'. For someone running a medium of 'Free Press' you sure do have some 'sheep' tendancies that are frightening...

Sue said...

Somehow, I don't think "trust" is the key to our relationship with our government. For several reasons. First, it's not like a marriage. We actually didn't choose our government (at least not individually; most of us were born to it).

Second, our representatives to government are NOT government; they are the people we have hired to be our spokespersons in the day-to-day operation of the business of government. And every owner of a business -- large or small -- knows that good management is key to a successful business. With government, we are the employers and it is our duty to assure that our employees are well managed. This means keeping track of what they do and making sure that they are doing what they are supposed to do, not doing what they are not supposed to do, and doing the things that are being done in the appropriate way.

Third, the reality is that not everyone elected our representatives. It only takes a slight majority for a person to win an election; given the low voter turnout, this realistically means that probably less than a third of those eligible voted for any candidate. Here's where the trust comes in: We trust that the nature of our government will insure that all elected officials will work for the good of all citizens and not favor special-interest groups.

The founding fathers who framed the Constitution worked diligently to assure that "trust" was not a necessary component of government. That's why we have the system of checks and balances provided by a bicameral legislature and three distinct branches of government. These all work to keep each other in check. But that doesn't mean we can abrogate our responsibility. We are the "people" in the phrase "of the people, by the people, and for the people" that so aptly describes this nation. As such, we need to be sure that our elected representatives (and the bureaucrats) properly carry out their duties.

Trust? Well, at the very least, that's something that has to be earned. If an elected official has a long track record of acting in the best interests of the people of his/her district and of the nation at large, I'll trust him/her to continue making good choices. But not without supervision.

Idna said...

Dear Jane,

The most sensible statement in your post is the last sentence: "The government, after all, is only people. And as we know from our own private lives, some are trustworthy, and others are not."

So we should examine what happens to individuals when they are put into a position of power. The 'power corrupts' axiom can be all too true as we saw last week in the FBI roundup in New Jersey. Among those they snapped the cuffs on were three mayors, two state assemblymen, five rabbis and a bunch of officials.

An earlier phase of the same operation ensnared more than 20 Jersey Shore officials in 2005. And a separate bribery sting caught 11 officials in 2007.

So what makes New Jersey so fertile for this kind of activity? Big Government is a leading reason New Jersey has a corruption problem that an FBI agent at Friday’s press conference characterized as “one of the worst, if not the worst, in the nation.”

In the years 2000 - 2007, New Jersey created only 6,800 private sector jobs. However, public sector jobs grew by more than 55,800. (This is looking like the trend of the Obama administration.)

The more extensive government’s reach, the more opportunities the governing class has to steal from and shake down the productive class. When government gets too big and complicated for businesses to get their permits and approvals and funding honestly, the dishonest prosper.

We cannot have blind trust for government. Certain individuals can EARN our trust, but we the people need to make sure that the role of government is limited.

When I see huge spending bills being passed with no one even reading what is in those bills, to me that is criminal. When I see politicians in essence bribing each other for their votes, ("I'll vote for your pet project if you vote for mine"), to me that's wrong. Can't trust people who can be bought off like that.

Instead of trust I have great fear of the Obama Administration. I don't believe that Obama is up to the task. I have major disagreements with most everything he is trying to shove through. He does not understand economics. He has BAD social ideas. And even though it's not Jersey folks running his show, the "expert" Chicago boys & girls that he surrounds himself with are just as suspect. So TRUST him. NO WAY!

P.S. Just a little disagreement with your characterization of Bush & Chaney's "evil fruits of their labor." And your statement - "I quickly lost faith in Bush/Cheney, as did we all." Please don't lump me into that ALL.