Gary Hart: America’s Greatness

America has done some extraordinary things. Leave aside victory in war, though the triumph of the Union was a triumph for union and World War II rid the world of fascism, at least for a time. There was the Louisiana Purchase, the Westward expansion and the occupation of the continent, the great dams — Hoover, Glen Canyon, Grand Coulee, and hundreds of others — that made that expansion possible, the Panama Canal, elimination of polio and control of other diseases, an interstate highway system, the Internet, great progress on race relations, a Social Security and Medicare system, space exploration, and an expanding list of achievements few if any nations can match.

Recitation of our achievements is not meant to ignore our failures and shortcomings, not least the shameful treatment of the first Americans.

But it is a reminder that we have done and can do great things. Our great achievements have one thing in common, of course. They are all the product of the United States government, the government we elect, that is responsible and accountable to us, and that operates under an enduring 223 year old Constitution.

Yet, this is the same government that is hated by the Tea Party and right-wing media.

It is difficult to pin down the exact nature of this hatred. Anti-government groups are rarely specific. Everyone brings his own grievance. The closest we come to anything concrete is “government handouts” and “job-killing regulations.” The first is often racially coded and the second may or may not include safe food and drugs, clean air and water, workplace safety, or protection of children’s health. Even the perennial rant against “government bureaucrats” doesn’t resonate because their numbers never decrease under conservative administrations.

Until the government haters get specific, name the programs they want to get rid of, and find a majority of Americans who agree with them, things will remain pretty much the same. We tried term limits. That didn’t work. Too many term limiters got into office and liked being there. We tried “sunsetting” programs, terminating them unless they were renewed. Virtually all were renewed. We’re now trying gerrymandering. And we’ve managed to create a red nation and a blue nation. We’ve tried to put a lid on campaign contribution. And the Supreme Court took the lid off. We put puny restrictions on Members of Congress entering the lobbying casino. Now there are almost 500 former Members (not including their spouses and children) who are lobbyists. And so it goes.

But the real hurdle the government haters must overcome is the history of great things America has achieved through its government, the government we elect and that is accountable to us. Those achievements are as concrete as the dams on the Colorado River. Properly regulated, our markets are the best. Our military, a central part of the government the haters dislike, is the strongest.

America still has much to achieve and much of that will be carried out by the government we elect. The world the children of the government haters inherit will be the better for it. And, in the meantime, the haters might better ask what they can do for their country.

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