The Government Does Work! (We Just Aren’t Told About It)

Is the government really as incompetent as we sometimes perceive it to be?  Answer: no.  In fact, it is much more efficient than most of us give it credit for and does a lot of things we have all come to simply take for granted.  Jeff Greenfield discusses the Democrats’ biggest problem today which is the image that government is wasteful and is a burden on society and all Democrats want to do is further expand it wherever possible.  Delving into this a little deeper, it’s easy to see when the government screws up.  A scandal is uncovered and we are hit with a barrage of stories from the media.  But what about when the government works?  Do we always hear about that?  Is the perception of rampant incompetence fair?

Let’s take an extreme example to begin: WMDs in Iraq.  No reason to go too deeply into the details but as we all now know, there were none and it is pretty clear the government knew that before invading.  This becomes a story for the media to address and stays in the cycle for days, weeks, and months.  It is discussed by weapons experts, terrorism experts, Middle East region experts, family members of experts, people who made mud pies in preschool with those experts…you get the idea.  We get hit with so much information and so many stories for so long that our psyches cannot help but be worn to the point where we think government is a failure. Even if we take smaller examples of government failures, we would see they still get plenty of time in the media in comparison to any success.

And we should be discussing these things at length.  I’m certainly not arguing we shouldn’t.  The media is doing its job when it is actually making sure the government and the people within it are doing their jobs properly and exposing any problems when someone is behaving badly. But what about the media coverage when the government fails versus when it is successful?

If the government is doing its job and, for example, successfully implementing new safety procedures in a dangerous job, do we hear about it for hours, days, weeks?  What about if an FDA  restriction stops a salmonella outbreak before it even happens, how would we know?  Let’s use Shirley Sherrod as an example.  The vast majority of us would not know her name if not for the viciously edited video making her look like a racist and leading to her firing and later vindication.  But what about Shirley Sherrod before that incident?  Did we know her name?  Would we recognize her on the street as a competent government employee doing her job?  Where was the story of her successes prior to the scandal and why wasn’t that discussed for days in the media?  In this sense, the government is like an offensive lineman in football.  You rarely hears the names of these guys during the broadcast of a game…unless they commit a penalty.

When it comes to reporting from the media the government is in an unfair fight.  It will always be that way and it should always be that way.  But what we have to realize is there are successes by the government and they outnumber the failures exponentially.  The fact is we have come to simply take the successes for granted and no longer notice them on a regular basis.  We take for granted when the streets we drive on get paved for us.  We take for granted the gas prices that are still far lower than most other industrialized countries.  We take for granted our free education.  We take for granted safety regulations at work and the fact our food is not poisoned when we eat.  And how many of us took firefighters for granted prior to 9/11?

The public sector is not perfect much like the private sector.  There are, however, two important differences between these sectors.  One, the successes of government are all around us in our everyday lives but the media does not report on those successes the way they do the private sector’s victories (e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg being household names versus the average person trying to name a Secretary of HHS).  Two, the public sector is accountable through democracy and elections and the private sector is not.  When a politician fails, we can elect someone else.  When Goldman Sachs screws us, we can only watch helplessly as those execs get on their private planes and fly home to potentially screw us some more.

The government works and works really well a lot of the time.  Let’s not take that for granted anymore or else we might elect people who take those conveniences away.

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