This I Believe

Chris - Astoria, New York
Entered on January 31, 2008

My generation grew up entrenched in the philosophy that the government is our enemy. Reagan’s legendary words in his inaugural speech in 1981 have echoed throughout the decades: “The government is not the solution to our problem. The government is the problem.”

Reagan’s legacy is revered, but what was his legacy? He certainly changed the course of this nation. He is credited with ending the Cold War, cutting taxes, and piling up the largest deficit in the history of the United States. Those are aspects that are well-remembered, but one legacy that he, I guess, inspired, for a lack of a better term, is the long-term degradation of our national dialogue.

For 26 years — my entire life — this nation has been trying to actually eliminate government. We have lost all confidence that “the system” is working. In fact, the powerful conservative leader, Grover Norquist, says that he wants “cut government in half in twenty-five years to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” The anti-government national dialogue was legitimized and solidified in the 1990’s when a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, declared that the “era of big government is over,” in his State of the Union Address.

I just recently learned that Americans haven’t always thought of government this way. Last Fall I went to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, where I saw a campaign poster when FDR was running for Governor. It’s slogan: “Keep Good Government.” I was shocked that despite the inevitable shortcomings of any governmental body, the people wanted to maintain their government. Back then, people looked to the government to be the solution, and it was.

What are the consequences of a negative national dialogue? For one, I don’t see how we can function as a society if we have no confidence in our government. If we consider our government some faceless antagonist, we remove ourselves from engaging in the political process. It’s okay to be dissatisfied with the way business in conducted in Washington. It’s okay to be dissatisfied with elected officials. Those are healthy signs of Democracy. But I don’t think it’s okay to label the institution of government as the enemy. After all, WE are the government.

I’ve heard plenty of pundits trying to explain why my generation supports Barack Obama. Personally, I’m inspired about the possibility of changing our national dialogue – moving away from the so-called “big government era” into the “Yes We Can” movement.

How would things be different if our national dialogue revolved around liking, or even loving, our government? Who is the leader that can make that transition for us?