Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
August 19, 2008
Hating government is as American as apple pie.
Well, actually, no: Hating government is more American than apple pie. Indeed, hating government is more American than almost anything. It’s more American than guns, barbecue and pro football. Combined.
America was founded on the basis of hating government, one specific government: the “Divine Right” rule of King George III. We explained that hatred and enshrined it in the Declaration of Independence.
Then, after taking time to create a superb governing structure in the U.S. Constitution, our Founding Fathers immediately reverted to expressing their anti-government feelings by creating the Bill of Rights, which outlines all the things that newly created government most specifically can not do.
So, given our founding history, it is perfectly normal, natural and even commendable for Americans to hate government. That really ought to be the instinctive, default position of every patriotic citizen of this great nation.
But now, at the risk of sounding like the old hippie that I am, I need to point out that hatred is a tricky thing. Once you set it loose, it tends to get out of control ” like thistles in a pasture or sexually transmitted disease in a high school.
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To begin with, if I can switch from our Founding Fathers to the man who was arguably our greatest president, we’re supposed to have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” And we are those “people.” (As the Constitution puts it, in its first three words: “We the people.”)
So when we hate our government, we’re just hating ourselves.
Sometimes that’s necessary. Sometimes it’s just plain destructive. And the difficult thing is knowing the difference.
Fat people need to diet. They hate the part of themselves that’s fat and they try to kill that part of themselves by starving it. And when they do, they get healthier. (And, please, no New Age, positive-thinking claptrap about loving yourself for who you are, the way you are. If you’re a big, fat lump you really do need to do something about it. Lord knows, I keep trying.)
Thin people do not need to diet. And when they do, it’s destructive. Think anorexia ” a neurotic, destructive (sometimes even fatal) form of self-hatred.
And (to stick with that metaphor maybe just a little too long), sometimes we need to hate the part of our government that’s gotten too fat and ought to be on a diet.
But, despite the arguments of the really rabid government haters, we here in the U.S. of A. probably have less government per capita than almost anywhere else on the face of the planet.
Think about it: Because we’re natural-born government haters, we naturally have less government ” but, because we’re natural-born government haters we naturally hate whatever government we do have.
And that’s where things get tricky. Just like a neurotic dog who chews off his own foot because he’s got nothing else to chew on, we sometimes destroy government we need, just because it’s government and we hate it.
Think of the bridges that are collapsing. Think of the libraries that are closing. Think of the violent psychotics, pushed out of over-crowded mental hospitals and left to live on the streets as best they can. Think of the people dying from contaminated food that we can’t trace back to its source. Those are all results of government that can’t do its job, because we’ve killed parts that we really needed.
Here, in Aspen, on a local level, the problem takes a different form.
No one can argue that Aspen and Pitkin County are not getting enough government. Our problem is not that we’re getting short-changed when it comes to keeping the cupboard nicely stocked with government. The government cupboard is definitely not bare.
But what some people would dearly love to see forgotten is the fact that the government we’ve got is the government we wanted. Indeed, it’s the government we demanded.
Over the past 35 or so years, on a fairly consistent basis, city and county residents have voted for candidates that have focused on one issue above all others: controlling growth.
Yes, there have been times when a national economic scare has made people back off a little nervously from strict controls. And there have been some candidates who had other issues as their top priority, but accepted growth control as a given. And a few others who were elected to represent the “development community” and favored strong growth.
But all in all, local government has had a growth-control majority for decades. And growth control just simply requires a lot of government.
You need armies of planners to make the rules, inspectors to enforce the rules and lawyers to defend the rules.
Frankly, the whole set-up stinks. But, then again, I hate going to the dentist. I hate the shots, I hate the drill, I hate the whole damn place. But I hate rampant tooth decay and the threat of an abscessed tooth even worse.
And the key point is that I don’t hate the dentist. I hate the tooth decay. And, similarly, we shouldn’t hate the armies of planners, we should hate the heedless developers who would cheerfully trash this place if that army weren’t there to keep them in check.
Think about this for a moment: Growth control has protected Aspen from the worst ravages of unchecked development. At the same time, it has been largely responsible for a major spike in real estate prices. Some of the people who have made millions of dollars from those inflated prices are consistently willing to spend vast sums in an attempt to overturn the very rules that made them rich. So they can swoop in and get even richer.
So how can we hate the armies of lawyers? Except, of course, that everybody hates armies of lawyers. The same way that everybody hates government. And everybody hates going to the dentist.
But (to thoroughly mix some metaphors) that doesn’t mean we should chew off our foot.
Or fall for the anti-government rants of people who are only looking for a fast buck or two ” or a million.
As our president said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice … um … you can’t get fooled again.”
That’s profound advice. And he meant it.