Two important anniversaries are coming up - as if you haven't heard about them, right?
Every news outlet has begun the "One year later" trip down Katrina-memory lane, while the media "celebrate" the fifth year since September 11. Both ask important questions: what have we learned? How has our government's response changed? Are we safer?
The answers to most of those questions, however, are not optimistic.
Both anniversaries have had me thinking about the ineptitude and impotence of our government. It reminds me now of a giant corporation - pick one, anyone with a call center and an option menu. Bloated, sloth-slow, unable to grasp the changes in the world around it, the government is forever keeping us on hold, reminding the people that a vote "is important to us," meanwhile the whole world goes to shit outside our window.
Size can be a burden, even by those who say they wish to jump on that diet plan and, in this case, shrink the size of the federal government. Less taxes (if you're rich), less government-funded programs (unless you're the military), more compassion in the conservative cookie mix (unless you're poor, out of work, or a foreign citizen).
But like most diet plans, a rebound is inevitable. You'll get fat again. Programs are added, each one promising to correct the mistakes of the one before, and nothing in the way of progress is ever seen. Do you think we're safer five years after 9/11? Do you think the Gulf Coast is any more ready to face a category five storm one year later?
Do you trust your government?
With size comes comfort. Just look at our domestic automakers. Swelled and spoon-fed by the "buy American" public, the Big Three sought to change only when the hunger for bigger SUVs surfaced. When gas prices hit, or foreign automakers made better their offerings, or employees required larger health care and pension budgets (as they deserved), GM and Ford and Chrysler were paralyzed by their girth, and now suffer. Same with the airlines. Everyone looks for a hand-out, and usually get it - unless your single and pregnant.
And so our government thought that having all the bases covered would make for good governance. Dip your hands into every facet of American life. Proclaim a slimmer and efficient government, even when you grit your teeth to supress the smirk when you say it. Cut taxes to improve the economy. Run the deficit higher and higher. Advocate personal responsibility except when the people call your bluff.
Ben Franklin, when Alexander Hamilton (pre-duel, of course) worried that presidents shouldn't return to regular public life because it would degrade the former-president, said "In free governments the rulers are the servants and people their superiors and sovereigns."
Franklin, in all his Forefather Wisdow, seems almost naive now. How can a citizen govern that which he or she cannot understand?
And who would want to rule this power-crazy bunch? The same folks that use our military are mercenaries for their oil cronies, help their friends and themselves get fat at the table of suffering, and use the American Government as a tool to preach the Gospel of Free Enterprise and No Gays In Our Backyard. Who wants anything to do with them?
When the American people can be flim-flammed by PR men, touting economic recovery where none exist, educational reform as an unfunded mandate, and turn-the-corner war mongering into freedom throughout the Mideast, Ben Franklin's words lose their value and poetry. We are no longer the rulers. The servants have taken back what they've always seen as theirs.
War is Peace. Freedom, Slavery. You get the idea.
I've tried to take heart in the words of Thomas Jefferson, who preferred the morning paper to any government. At least a newspaper a common man can make sense of. Today's government requires the mind of Einstein and the heart of Rocky Balboa to slog through. And even they didn't have the guts, or the mindlessness, to take That Trip.
But now that the paper is merely a tool in the Fat-Man's utility belt - "Send that press release, Bob, and call anyone who disagrees a liberal, terrorist, or Tom Cruise!" - well, Mr. Jefferson, there's always MySpace.