Evidently we could be on the verge of having the adult conversation about the role of government that our politicians have been promising and then postponing for so long. But hopefully this will be an opportunity for self-examination as well as debate given the conflicting opinions we have on the matter not only between but also within ourselves.
Our government is composed of the many systems that tie us together, yet in this country we ground it in a national mythology of rebellion and independence. It is comprised of our fellow citizens but we talk about it as if it were an alien life form.
In our personal experience it seems to move all over the place. When we get our paychecks we find that the government was in front of us in line, getting its share before we see one dime. And, yet sometimes when an emergency or disaster strikes, it is nowhere to be found.
We chafe against government when it imposes restrictions that we consider unnecessary or inappropriate, and yet are quite happy to see the law used to enforce our own biases and preferences. We may profess to hate it but we make the same conflicting demands of it that we sometimes make of the people we love. We ask it to walk a tightrope that balances process with responsiveness and then are disappointed when it inevitably falls. We bequeath to it the problems that are the eternal woes of human existence, poverty, war and disease, and then criticize its inability to eradicate these. We entrust to it the people and things that we value the most in life, the education of our children and the protection of our homes and family, and then resent the contribution this requires of us.
We also ask it to do things that generate little gratitude on our part. After all regulation is essentially the prevention of bad outcomes. So if the planes all land safely and nobody gets sick from the food they bought, government has accomplished what we asked of it. But putting a value on that requires imagining things that didn't happen and we are much too busy pursuing things that we think are real.