As you know, one of the banes of my existence is the far-too-large group of people in our country who HATE government, and do nothing but bad-mouth it.
I take it personally, as an American. It offends my patriotism, because the great glory of this country is our system of government. It’s not free enterprise, as wonderful as that is and much as that goes hand-in-hand with, and is encouraged and supported by, our system. It’s not the land, as beautiful and varied and bountiful as that is. It’s not the people qua any identifiable group of people, in any kind of racial or cultural or nationalistic sense (you can’t identify an American with a DNA test, the way you can a person of Japanese heritage, for instance), because our people come from every other country on Earth — which really is the one greatest thing about the American people — we are universal, and represent the aspirations of all peoples, the world over.
No, it’s the system that we founded here, which made everything work together — the free economy, the sprawling land, the aspiring people from everywhere, seeking something better. It’s self-government, on the grand scale. It’s representative democracy; it’s that we are the first and still foremost example of liberal democracy on the planet. It’s the Constitution, federalism, checks and balances, separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, free elections.
It’s one thing for a subject of an absolute, medieval monarch to hate government, as a thing that takes from him and oppresses him, a thing into which he has no input, and over which he exercises no control. Or a citizen in a totalitarian dictatorship.
But to “hate government” in this country is to hate ourselves and the wonderful thing we have wrought.
Yeah, I know — the government haters will say that it’s just the particular size of the government at a given moment (which is always now) that they hate, or the policies under the present officeholders, and that they love, they adore, their country.
Yeah, well… occasionally their habits of thought betray those protestations.
I saw it today on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal. It went with a run-of-the-mill, boilerplate piece of the sort that you read all of the time in the Journal. It was headlined, “What Obama Didn’t Learn From the 1990s,” and the subhed elaborated, “The economic growth of the 1950s, the ’60s and the Clinton years had many causes. But one of them wasn’t high marginal tax rates.”
Not a thing wrong with that piece. I disagreed with some of it, but thought it made some good points. In any case, that’s what we’re supposed to do as Americans — argue energetically for this policy and against that one. That’s one of the rights, even obligations, guaranteed us under the American system. (At this point the libertarian ideologues will jump in and say these rights are endowed by our creator and not the gift of a government, and they’d be right, rhetorically speaking. But good luck exercising those rights, here or in most of the rest of the world where such rights are enjoyed, if not for the system our Founders had the wisdom to set up.)
The problem was with the artwork that went with the piece.
It’s one of those moments when you wonder whether any of the editors involved in producing that piece and putting it on the page, and proofing it, and putting it on the website, stopped at any point to think to themselves, Wait a minute: We’re portraying Uncle Sam as a BAD guy. A fat, evil bully, smirking with malice as he takes away the money of a good American (here portrayed as a white guy in a business suit — no doubt one of the “successful investors and risk-takers” mentioned in the column). Did that not occur to anyone, and did he or she not get a sinking feeling? (Sort of the way the guy portraying a Nazi in this comedy skit suddenly realized he had a skull on his cap, and wondered, “Are we the baddies?”)
Yeah, I know — the illustrator was thinking of Uncle Sam as representing the “government,” which in the ideology that predominates on that editorial board is an entity that does nothing but take, and get in the way.
But while Uncle Sam is defined by Wikipedia as “the American government,” the part that speaks to me most is American. And he’s more that just the government. The name comes from U.S., which is the United States. Uncle Sam is US, our country. He’s always been understood that way. Those recruiting posters wouldn’t have been very powerful if they had simply been understood as some mean ol’ government agency wants you — he stood then, and stands now, for our country.