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We laugh or pull our hair when we hear demands by obvious medicare recipients for “government to keep its hands off healthcare.”  Don’t they know their healthcare is a government program?  Dupes.  Idiots!  And then we dismiss further thought.  We all know this slogan originated in some Republican PR hack’s darkly evil brain.  But the resonance “government keep its hands off” obviously has among the elderly has driven me as a social scientist and lifelong educator to inquire more closely.

Join me in a little “reality based” inquiry below the fold.

Of course, some folks don’t know government runs medicare, but the vast majority, especially of the elderly actually on it, do.  After inquiry among a few medicare recipients who want government to keep its hands off medicare, I found the demand resonates with so many because folks do not want “government” messing up medicare which they feel is already working fairly well.   The demand is NOT that government NOT run healthcare; it is that “government” in the sense of legislators and "the political process" NOT fix what is NOT broken.

This slogan resonates because people don’t trust government.  That’s not news.  The Republicans have been drumming that theme since Ronald Reagan.  But on the eve of the anniversary of  government’s dramatic failures with Hurricane Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans, it behooves Democrats to recall just how dramatically power shifted in 2006 and 2008 as a direct result of 2005's very dramatic Republican failures to make government work when it was most needed and for those who most needed it.  And we cannot forget the Democratic governor of LA did not come out of Katrina as much of a hero either.  Nor can we forget the corruption in Democratic dominated New Orleans and LA that left the levy system and the city vulnerable to a Category III storm which it was supposed to be able to easily survive.  Government failed, at least, one very important aspect of it did.

These old folks are terrified that just when they need help most, and precisely when they can do least about it is exactly when government will fail them.  Every time a hurricane brews up, people, especially old people, remember.  As far as many people can tell, it looks like government cannot get its act together, that Obama cannot get his own party to cooperate, and that “government” is back to its usual incompetence and squabbling.  “Government isn’t working” they feel.  

And this is not just a right wing view.

For many on the left, “government” failed to protect the US when it had clear warnings about "al Queda determined to attack inside America."  Government failed to find the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  And usually we blame this on Republicans.  But “government” also failed to regulate the banks and economy properly.  It failed to manage housing and other economic bubbles.  And government is failing to act on torture, close Guantanamo, re-regulate the banks, reform healthcare properly (with a public option) and, well, just read daily kos for a long list of what “government” under Democratic dominance is failing to do.  

That is what “read the bill” demands also resonate with.  Many people feel legislators aren’t doing their jobs, aren’t watching out for them, aren’t really in public office to serve the public.  They (legislators) don’t know what they are doing.  And they don't really care.  And all that Republican corruption during the Bush era surely hasn’t helped build trust in legislators.  But we also have to remember that House member Jefferson of LA and Gov Blogoyavich (sp?) of IL were very recent and very public corruption failures of Democrats.  

Blame this on Republicans all we want, but the average person out there just hears all the screaming and discord and lack of action and cynical corruption and concludes, “government isn’t working”.  And don’t think that when Democrats dominate the White House, the Senate and the House even more than the Republicans did in 2004 that all this controversy and apparent failure of Democrats to act on healthcare reform and so many other vital areas such as proper regulatory frameworks for banks and business and so much else will be without consequences.  Many Americans are profoundly distrustful of business, of government, of the education system, of capitalism, of religious leadership, of you name it.  

Of democracy, even?  We are in a crisis of confidence, a systemic crisis of confidence we have not seen since the 1930s.  

How can “government” recover some credibility?  I hope the many thoughtful kos readers whose comments I have read for years have some creative ideas and add them below.  But it seems to me that another “Yes we can” PR campaign can't address this crisis of confidence.  I think we need the kind of deliberate, public investigations of government failure that accompanied Watergate.  We need to publicly admit that “government” has failed, and by god, we are going to find out just exactly how it did and who is responsible.  

And, we Democrats are going to fix it.  

Not doing this, not doing this in the “government at work" way of a high profile public Congressional investigation is hurting, not helping, Democrats fix things.  Trying to compromise and work with Republicans who preach distrust of government is not working.  

Indeed, letting them get away with incompetence and abuse of government while in office, and continuing so many of their failed policies (DADT, DOMA, government secrecy, escalating war, etc) has directly contributed to this profound feeling that “government” cannot be trusted with anything so vital as “reform” of a program such as medicare that still works.  We need to contrast Democratic determination to make sure government works for all with Republican manipulation of government for their own benefit.  Or, at Thomas Frank details in "The Wrecking Crew", that Republicans have deliberately undermined democratic self-government while cynically proclaiming personal selfishness (called self-reliance by them) is the same as freedom.  Freedom is won and exercised democratically and via self-governance (not self-reliance) by us all.  

Politics as usual and the politics of compromise now on this vital point will result in the “usual” loss of seats in 2010 and a prolongation of the very inability of “government” to do anything right that makes the demand to “keep government hands off” resonate.  Democrats need to get those investigations going, and hit hard on the real reason people distrust government, now.  

We need to stop trying to sleep with Republican rattlesnakes who turn on us like Grassley nearly every time.  Its time, past time, to name this growing cancer on democracy:  distrust of government, of self government, for we are a democracy.  Good government is possible.  Good government is achievable.  In a democracy, WE are a vital part of government.  When government fails, WE must investigate and WE must determine who failed US and how they failed US.  

Failure to investigate government failure is not prudence.  Failure to do this is not bowing to political reality.  Failure to do this is not turning the other cheek.  We cannot look forward unless we look back and find out how we got on the wrong path.  Failure to launch public inquiries on these very public failures is failure to govern well, and Democrats will pay for their governance failures in 2010 just as surely as Republicans did in 2006 and 2008.

So, do you think we should turn the other cheek and forget all the incompetence and corruption and abuse of office that sowed the seeds for this harvest of distrust of government?  Or should "the government" investigate?  Or am I missing something that better explains all this?

Originally posted to monkeybrainpolitics on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 07:39 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    When you lie down with Blue Dogs, you wake up with Teaparty fleas

    by monkeybrainpolitics on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 07:39:16 AM PDT

    •  Distrust is fear (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Nothing more than fear.

      Great advertising minds know and use fear to sell everything there is.

      Even Sex appeal ads are fear, fear you won't "get any".

      "A functioning Democracy must defy economic interests of the elites on behalf of citizens" Christopher Hedges Econ 3.50&Soc. 5.79

      by wmc418 on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 07:51:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  GOP proved that gov't is broken, they got elected (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Renee, fumie

        And then they broke it. What they are trying to do now is sway the majority into believing that they cannot trust their representatives to do what is right for the country.
        Well, if only those politicians would look into the mirror, they could see who is bringing us all down.

    •  A very good site (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      thanks for the link.  Very interesting, and I agree with the "democracy deficit" as the core of the problem with our governance system.  But we also need discussion of some specifics on structural problems that create this democratic deficit.  One is we have a Senate that overweights the rural sector.  At one time, Jeffersonians thought the virtues of farming freemen should counterweight the corruption of the city, but now, educated and propertied majorities live in the cities not the countryside.  But the benighted rural poor, not free soil owning family farmers, are dominating city folks.  But how to reform this system set down from the very beginning, or at least how to realistically change this?  And our gerrymandering House that leaves only a handfull of seats genuinely competitive between parties doesn't help either.

  •  Interesting diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trinityfly, Ezekial 23 20

    I'm not sure that I totally agree with you on the seeds of distrust of government being  Republican only.  It's very American, and a lot of the checks and balances built into the Constitution are there because of it.  

    I want competence in what the government does, and I expect it - but at the same time, I don't trust it to be that way unless it's watched.  

    I think that I have had enough of you telling me how things will be. Today I choose a new way to go ... and it goes through you!

    by Norbrook on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 07:49:30 AM PDT

    •  Watched at the very least (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Norbrook, Ezekial 23 20

      "Incidents" in our history, such as Vietnam and Iraq, which come from both sides of the aisle, come to mind.

      American history is rife with actions of a government pushed by commercial interests to act imperialistically and attempt to take over and co-opt other countries to protect and support capitalistic greed.

      Watch what you say, there are people in this crowd with U - Tubes.

      by trinityfly on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:04:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There is an awkward truth here (4+ / 0-)

    There are no movements without hatred of the state, and this was virtually unknown to German(s) the relative stability of pre-WW1 Germany. The movements originated in Austria-Hungary, where hatred of the state was an expression of the Social Democratic Party...were formed along national, and not along class lines...

    - Hannah Arendt, "The Origins of Totalitarianism", p 259

    And that truth is, in the post-WW2 era, it was the left that started the hatred of the state in America - for good reasons. Reasons like an out-of-control CIA, assassinations of left-leaning leaders, support for right wing thug regimes around the world (Indonesia, Zaire, Viet Nam, Latin America).

    But, that hatred was hijacked by the right and used to smash the left in the US right out of existence. Europeans today do not recognize any party or grouping in the US as "leftist". They find the US to be a rightist country.

    The end result of fringe leftist hatred and violence, then, (Weathermen, SDS) has been to destroy the left. Somehow, the totally pacifist hippie movement got tarred with the anarchist bomber brush. Hardly surprising, since the first principle of propaganda is that there is only one enemy.


    With that history lesson, everything you say about NOW is true. We are screwed if we do not RESTORE the rule of law - not this friendly fascist corporate sham of law.

  •  I asst'd two social scientists back in (3+ / 0-)

    the seventies who examined support for the federal government following Watergate and the oil crisis. People had varying faith in politicians, (not much as you might expect), but overwhelming faith in our system of government. Of course, FOX and Rush didn't exist back then, but both toy with destroying faith in government when it suits their purposes, otherwise they claim to be the law and order people. Law and order requires government. I'd love to see what such a survey would reveal today.

  •  Gov't programs usually don't work. (0+ / 0-)

    If they do, Medicare and service-connected VA care do to a degree, it is because they are limited programs with limited objectives.

    Do we want the same people who gave us Katrina relief, the Iraq War, the Post Office and "Cash for Clunkers" to be in charge of health care?  

    •  Different people in government now (2+ / 0-)

      I voted to put different people in charge of government programs, precisely because I have greater confidence in their ability.


      Political compass goes 3-D: -9,-8,+10. The view looks different from "up".

      by etbnc on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 07:59:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Me too! (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Renee, etbnc, Ezekial 23 20

        And actually, isn't that what self-government is all about?  We vote and write and call our legislators and then vote for someone else if they don't do their jobs.  The failure of American government is also a failure of Americans to govern themselves.  "WE" can't just blame "them" for failure and change the channel.

        •  Able to respond = responsibility (0+ / 0-)

          I'd say you've described an important insight. It can be an unpleasant insight to internalize, however. Some folks reject such unpleasantness.

          Years ago I came across the notion that it can be helpful to think about "responsibility" simply as our "ability to respond".

          I have found that suggestion helpful when trying to grapple with awkward truths.

          Thanks for contributing your perspective.


          Political compass goes 3-D: -9,-8,+10. The view looks different from "up".

          by etbnc on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:29:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  A member of the Peoples Judean Front? (5+ / 0-)

      Fuck the gov't, what did the gov't ever do right? Social Security? Ok, they did do that right. Medicare? Well, that's ok. Interstate road system? Public immunizations? Education?

    •  You're Way on the Wrong Site With This (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Youffraita, etbnc, Ezekial 23 20

      No, of course we don't want the REPUBLICANS who gave us Katrina ignoring and the Iraq war running anything.

      When FDR our elderly were our poorest age demo and died more of heat or cold than anything else, same as Jesus' day. That's where 2 millennia of Christian charity and 10 millennia of free markets had brought us.

      One generation of New Deal and social security later they were are most secure age group and we were in the midst of establishing a large global comfortable middle class with advancement, education and leisure opportunity.

      It was the greatest advance in human history and driven by massive government programs at home and abroad, and regulation.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:14:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Republican programs usually don't work. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      monkeybrainpolitics, WereBear, etbnc

      Just like their failed conservative policy and philosophy.  But we're weeding them out of the government.  It just takes time.

      And, btw, I like the post office a hell of a lot more than I do the private carriers.  I have a far better record with things sent through the post office than I ever did with UPS or FedEx.

      Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God. - Thomas Jefferson

      by Ezekial 23 20 on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:18:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My wife worked for the PO (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        OHdog, WereBear, etbnc, Ezekial 23 20

        just as it was changing from government to "private" or quasi private.  While the old system had abuses, it did a lot more than just deliver the mail.  Mail carriers knew their routes and the people there.  They could and did check on old folks who hadn't collected their mail.  You could tell the mail carrier you'd be out of town and he (or she) would also take a look daily at your home and call the cops if they saw something wrong.  Privatization is not a universal good thing applicable to everything (fire stations privatized, anyone?), and efficiency and cost aren't the only measures of service.

      •  Clearly some one who does not deal (0+ / 0-)

        with FedEx or UPS.

        •  Um, no, I dealt with them quite often for years. (0+ / 0-)

          And over 1/3 of the time, the items I was shipping arrived damaged.  I've had that happen once with the post office.  Once.

          I clearly don't deal with their shoddy services any more, though.

          Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God. - Thomas Jefferson

          by Ezekial 23 20 on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 09:39:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  The post office was a noticeable success (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ezekial 23 20

        for a couple of centuries.  Air mail contracts really spurred aviation development.

        Time doesn't stand still and there isn't any program that is so perfectly designed that you can just kick it off and watch it run perfectly forever.  Sometimes you can fiddle with it, other times you'll have to make major changes and sometimes you'll have to say "it was a good run but we need a better way now" and scrap it and start over.

        That's true for government, private industry, political parties etc etc.

        The rub seems to be in getting people to accurately identify the problems and then coming up with some "solutions" that actually address the problems.  

        It looks to me that there's a lot of "solutions" that come out of congress/WH that are aimed at solving problems other than the ones that need to be addressed.  So instead of actual improvements we see problems like "my supporters aren't getting enough pork" being addressed.

        Just as with the military/industrial complex you'll find a lot of cronyism taking place at high (political appointee) levels in the civilian agencies.  They've got revolving doors with industries and juicy contracts get steered to cronys of the House/Senate/WH.  That's what happened with a lot of the contracting out over the past 20+ years.  More money and less results, but it was lining the pockets of the cronys so that was OK.


  •  Restoring credibility for government (0+ / 0-)

    I'm pretty sure Obama has commented that part of his task is to restore the credibility that's been undermined for so long.

    Along with a search for one big solution, an everyday task that helps more than we realize is for ordinary citizens like us to simply state that we do have confidence in government, that we're confident government can be useful, that we're confident government can do good.

    Ordinary statements of confidence in the government we built for ourselves help other people to build confidence.


    Political compass goes 3-D: -9,-8,+10. The view looks different from "up".

    by etbnc on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 07:57:33 AM PDT

  •  The Federal government is far past (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trinityfly, monkeybrainpolitics

    its limited powers under the Constitution.  The states and the people must have their true power under the Constitution back.  

    That which governs best, governs closest to the people.  

  •  I just skimmed the diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    but want to know why I don't trust the government, and why I'm very ambivalent about this health care reform (other than being out of touch for a few months and not really knowing what's going on with it)?  Because I became politically aware during the Bush years and I saw the evils that government is capable of.  And I don't think it's isolated to Bush - anyone who has that much power is capable of that much evil.  Of course Obama isn't as bad as Bush was, but even he has to compromise (and is in league) with interests that are against the public interest, like the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

  •  Change the Frame? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Hammer home at every opportunity that the problem is not 'government', the problem is 'Republicans'.

    'Government' doesn't really have a voice, so it can't protest that most of the problems with 'government' are actually simply the policy of Republicans who work 'for the corporations' and not 'for the people'.  (I admit there are corporatist leanings on the left too, but they're far weaker in general.)

    Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God. - Thomas Jefferson

    by Ezekial 23 20 on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:15:45 AM PDT

  •  Maybe It Has Something to Do With Our Information (0+ / 0-)

    and communication environment?

    Nawwwww. It's the 1/3 billion citizens who aren't doing things right.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:16:16 AM PDT

  •  Mistrust of government? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    etbnc, MichaelSF

    Depends on your definition of 'government'

    The salient fact in American politics -- and every twenty years or so we forget it, and suffer thereby -- is that there always enough people who define 'government' purely as 'the entity who takes my money, that I earned, and gives it to people different from me, that I don't like', to swing an election, and no shortage of politicians who know that, and exploit it.

    "The country we carry in our hearts is waiting." Bruce Springsteen

    by Davis X Machina on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 08:51:28 AM PDT

  •  Great diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think about this a fair amount, and I like what you said about giving consequences to the people who have considered themselves above the law.

    I too place a lot of responsibility for American citizen's lack of respect for government at the door of 30 years of republican harping that we can't trust our government. Personally I think that when republicans and their shills like Rush are spewing that stuff they are engaging in sedition.

    I think the antidote to that is getting Americans involved in civics. When you volunteer for a candidate you see the people who really care about where this country goes. When you learn more about the current issues facing us you start to feel involved. The truth (though it has been lied about by Rush and the rest) is that the more involved we are  in government, the more we can trust it to act in our best interests.

  •  Government (0+ / 0-)

    is just a collection of individuals and since we are all flawed, we get a flawed government.  If the government doesn't have a lot of power, then that's not too big of a problem.  Now we have a government that's slowly been allowed to accumulate power in a variety of extraconstitutional ways.

    When a commercial enterprise gets too big and has too much power and control over the markets, we call it a monopoly and we break it up.  Plenty of people on my side of the aisle are firmly convinced that government is one big monopoly that needs a Teddy Roosevelt sized big stick to bust it up.

    •  Not lately. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      When a commercial enterprise gets too big and has too much power and control over the markets, we call it a monopoly and we break it up.

      The size of the interlocking corporations is the problem. Not the "size" of government.

      We have the illusion that we control corporations (I can just not buy their stuff!) and we don't control government.

      When the opposite is true.

      Pootie fan? Me too! Check out my cat advice blog.
      The Way of Cats

      by WereBear on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 09:33:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Typical Libertarian bull crap. I think you don't (0+ / 0-)

      really know how reality works since in your view everything is so simple that only minimal responses are needed from Government at any level. My bumper sticker (right next to OBAMA 08) says "Sure you can trust the government ..just ask an American Indian". And that's because the power of Government can be taken or stolen from the people it belongs to (i.e., us) and used for only the rich and powerful. But Lincoln's "of, by and for the people" is not a cliche but a warning. Without the us in USA the Constitution becomes what Bush and Yoo and Cheney  thinks it is, a piece of paper.

      ATF Alcohol, Tobacco. Firearms. Add Burgers and Potato Salad and its a Southern Picnic.

      by OHdog on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 09:33:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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