In the run up to the 2010 election and since, we’ve heard nothing but bashing of every aspect of government one can imagine.
Dwight David Eisenhower was president when I was in elementary school, and my middle name comes from him, as my initials are the same, Dennis David Embry. Eisenhower was from a small town in Kansas, like me. Later when I was in in High School, I was recommended to be a U.S. Capitol Page by then Representative Robert Dole and appointed by Gerald R. Ford—then House Minority Leader.
The health of American society requires good government
I wanted to become a political leader to do good, because just about every elected official I knew growing up was deeply involved in good, descent things for my immediate world of school, community, the state and the Nation. I remember to this day, then as a sixth-grader watching on a small black and white TV what John F. Kennedy said at this inauguration: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Today is not the same world. Everyday, my political friends are taunted, tormented and threatened.
A while back, I sat with my friends, the Mayor (a lifelong Republican) and First Lady of Tucson at a charity event. A lobbyist for the NRA came up to the mayor and made an explicit threat, “If you don’t vote the way we want, remember we have guns and you’d better watch your back.” I was stunned at the brazenness and the clear violent intent to intimidate.
Just this past Monday, I sat at a table at another charity event, this time with our Democratic County Attorney and directly across from the press secretary of our Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. For the first time, in my life, I realized that there were people in my hometown who might rush into a charity event to shoot and kill elected officials in an anti-government fever. This was not an abstraction, since Gabby and her staff—many of whom I knew well—had been shot and some killed just a month earlier.
All of this is in context of protests sweeping Egypt. They were not protest so much the end of all government: they were protesting to have good government, and the end of oligarchy of a modern Pharaoh. The Egyptians in the square were like the American Revolutionaries who undertook not to end government, but to create good government. Therein is my essay: Gratitude for good government.
A few weeks ago, I had to leave my home to do work in another state and several communities. For some reason, it popped into my head to count all the ways that good government was good for me.
When my alarm clock when off at the right time, it was because it was synchronized to some atomic clock at www.time.gov. That is maintained by “two time agencies of the United States: a Department of Commerce agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and its military counterpart, the U. S. Naval Observatory (USNO). Readings from the clocks of these agencies contribute to world time, called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).” The time maintained by both agencies should never differ by more than 0.000 0001 seconds from UTC. Hmmm, both business and our military need really, really accurate time and measurement standards for things to work. That might cost me a few dollars a year—to keep things running on time, not running into each other, and not launching weapons willy-nilly because of a slow or fast watch. That seems like good government.
I made coffee. I filled the coffee maker with water from the tap. I ground coffee beans, and put them in the filter paper. I flipped the switch. Such easy tasks that we take for granted based on good government for clean water and safe food.
The water that came out of my tap in Tucson, Arizona was from the Colorado River Basin by the Central Arizona Project that was possible because of the Glen Canyon Dam, the Hoover Dam, the Parker dam, etc. Now I have filled the coffee pot for 22 years out of the same tap, every day. Each day, the water comes out clean and uncontaminated to make my fresh coffee. Were it not for good government and those good government water projects, Tucson might be a city of a few thousand people who were desperately dusty, dry and thirsty. That’s good government, and all those water systems were the result of really big government expenditures and plans stretching back nearly 80 years ago.
I switched on NPR while taking a shower. I heard a great story about cancer prevention, based on a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Cancer prevention and treatment are not impersonal topics to me; I am a survivor one of a cancer that can be one of the most deadly: melanoma. I looked up the study on pubmed.gov, which is maintained by the National Library of Medicine—again maintained by the US Government as the worlds’ largest collection of scientific articles for medicine. I was able to look up the article in the Internet, which was invented by the US Department of Defense and accessible to every citizen of the United States because of rules by the Federal Communications Commission. That’s good government, and you cannot have the “the greatest healthcare in the world” without having the best medical science in the world—pretty much paid for by our tax dollars.
I pushed the remote control to open the garage. Only my garage door opened. That’s because the Federal Communications Commission regulates the frequencies. That seems like another example of good government.
Making my trip
I start my car, which is equipped with lap belts, multiple airbags, and all sorts of crash worthiness engineering. How did that happen? Laws started to happen in the 1960s, which have now dramatically reduced deaths and crippling injuries. I am grateful to the US Department of Transportation for my wellbeing.
My little 10-year old New Beetle moves smartly down our street. Now my car uses premium gasoline. Bad gas can kill that very high-compression turbocharged 1.8-liter engine. I don’t know exactly who tests and measures the gasoline quality at the state and federal level, but I am grateful for those nameless folks as agents of good government.
Now, I turn left and go two-tenths of a mile up the hill to the stoplight at Synder and Kolb. It’s a blind intersection when coming up the hill. People speed up and down two-lane Kolb. It’s the only North-South connector for people living in the far East side of Tucson. It’s a blind intersection for me, because of the apartment buildings, the hill and the curve of the road. Ten years ago, three neighbors were killed in a traffic accident trying to turn just like me now. The traffic engineers in Pima County and the Arizona Department of Transportation studied the traffic flow and accidents. They decided to put up a traffic light. Thank God for good government; now I breathe a bit easier at this intersection—knowing neighbors, strangers and I are safer now.
Driving down the hill, I notice the power poles. Hadn’t thought about that till just now. The power allows all business equipment to run in my study, and power the traffic light that now saves lives. That electricity on those power lines and from nuclear power plant are all regulated by the Federal government. Except for occasional lightening strikes, I have had power every day for 22 years in my house. I guess that’s good government, too. In Arizona, we never had the fake energy crisis caused by market manipulations and illegal shutdowns by Texas companies and deregulation in California.
On the way to the airport, my phone gets a text message update that my flights are on time, and I got a text from clients in Canada where I have excellent export business. That text message was made possible by government rules for radio frequencies and protocols that are arbitrary but necessary for wireless telecom to work across companies, services, and even countries. Treaties between the US and Canada make it a breeze for my company to do international business. All these things seem like good government, necessary for my business success.
The way to the airport is on city, county, state and federally supported roads. The safety design and funds come from my and your tax dollars. Growing up in Kansas, we had really, really good roads because our elected officials like President Eisenhower thought national defense and commerce needed them. I think he and others were right. I have high levels of gratitude for a good road or street.
While driving, I reflected how good government might have saved my life. I grew up in the 1950’s in Phoenix during the height of the polio epidemics. Every level of government from school districts to the White House mobilized our country to assure that all children in America were inoculated, that I recall getting vaccinated at Osborne Elementary School in Phoenix. Every child was vaccinated—the children conservatives and liberals, right-wingers or left-wingers, Republicans or Democrats, John Birchers or Communists.
When I entered the University of Kansas as an undergraduate in 1967, my tuition was but $240 per semester—thanks to good government. Today, it is $3,937 per semester, and will jump more because many legislators question the “need” for a college education today. In late 1960s and early 1970s I could and did earn enough money to help pay much of my way. A student cannot today. When I finished graduate school, I had $8,000 in government-sponsored student loans at something like 0.6% interest. I was able to pay that off quickly. Today, students have non-government loans that are larger than jumbo-home mortgages at an interest rate as much as 8.5% from the private sector. I am eternally grateful for my low-interest government loans that helped me bridge what I could earn and my scholarship funds during graduate school.
Now, I board my first flight (out of several legs) to do business in a couple of different cities, including going Winnipeg that has become a major client. That trip involves me placing my life in trust to the staff of the airlines and air traffic control. The Federal Aviation Agency makes sure pilots aren’t drunk, stoned or deranged flying my plane. The same agency also checks to see that the planes are properly equipped and maintained, and makes sure the air traffic controllers do their job so that my plane doesn’t collide with another plane. Until you’ve flown on a third-world airline, you don’t develop a profound sense of gratitude for all those government actions that keep you from being a casualty. Without decently safety and reliable airlines, I would not have business in virtually every state in the Union as well as multiple foreign countries. I am grateful for this life-saving good government.
I’ve been traveling for work for a whole week, and got home about 1 am on Saturday. Sleeping in until 9:45 am, I shuffle into the kitchen in my clippy-clop slippers. I am pouring coffee, still sleepy. My phone rings about 10:15 am, January 8, 2011.
My Congresswoman and friend, members of her staff who I know and count as friends, an admired judge, a little girl in my husband’s school district, and some citizens I never met were shot and six were killed. A young, gay Hispanic student at the University of Arizona (supported by my tax dollars) saved the life of our Congresswoman and friend. She and others were tended and transported by multiple-local government funded emergency services to the University Medical Center, a Level 1 trauma center subsidized by federal, state and local government agencies and funds. No Level 1 trauma center can clear a profit, except by refusing care. I am so thankful for these government supported trauma services.
The trauma surgeon who then saved Gabby Giffords was expertly trained in head injuries by his government service during the Iraq war. The research that allowed him to do the right thing was funded both by the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services. I am so grateful for these government training he received.
For a few weeks, the bashing of government workers and services quells a bit.
A Week in Madison
My company has had projects in Wisconsin since 2002, and we have an office in Madison. The state has had one of the best civil services for years. I cannot believe my eyes and ears. Normally, about the worst thing you can say about Wisconsin is they wear silly cheese hats at football games.
All the chatter I see on the TV monitors wants you and I to believe that the teachers, the social workers helping disabled, the secretaries who work in a government agency, the guy who gives you the drivers’ license test, the park rangers, the summer road repair crews, the people who mow the road medians and shoulders, the building inspectors, the restaurant health inspectors, the nurses who give flu shots to the elderly and poor kids, the sewer and water crews, the EMT crews, the psychiatrists and orderlies at the state hospital, etc., are the people who caused America’s economy to plunge into the worst recession since the Great Depression. The shout-casters want you and I to believe that those are the people who are wrecking America financial stability and economic competitiveness. Really? Those government employees and the everyday citizens they serve actually caused and continue to cause the catastrophic financial problems we face?
If you thinking even remotely that this is true, please run and turn on your shower to the coldest water possible and jump in that shower immediately—clothes and all. You have a potentially fatal case of media induced madness. Only cold water can shock you out of the fatal delusions.
Gratitude for Good Government
For those of us who remember and know what good government does for freedom, quality of life, economic bounty and public safety and health, pray for good government—not for the death of good local, state and federal government. If you seek the death of Good Government, then you will soon live in a place that resembles evil combination of the anarchy of Somalia, the oligarchy of Russia or Mubarak’s former government of Egypt, the nepotism and insanity of North Korea, and the religious demagoguery of Iran’s Mullahs.
I want an America where the government is a good government, not an abandoned shell of our past greatness and exceptionalism. I want an America for my grandchildren and your grandchildren where people in civil service and elective office are not seen as crooks, sociopaths or leeches. I want to them to be good at what they do for public education, public safety, public health, infrastructure, and keeping things fair and honest. I want our children and grandchildren to view elective office and civil service the way President Kennedy called us to us to do; and my former bosses, Gerry Ford and Bob Dole modeled as citizens, elected officials, and patriots. If we have that kind of good government, our economy and stability will rebound quickly.
We cannot claim to be the best government in the History of the World and then claim all the people and services in that system of government from local schools to municipalities or states to the federal government are inherently bad, evil, corrupt, and the cause of American decay. I have gratitude for Good Government, because everything I do as an individual or business—including my very life, and yours, too—depends on Good Government.