#59 We da People (2002)

All Rights Reserved © 2002 Thomas W. Day

I had the interesting pleasure of seeing Minnesota's rapping, wrassling, acting, and  Governor, Jesse Ventura, live and in person and doing his morning radio show this past Friday morning.  I'm not a big believer in the charisma thing and I wouldn't have given a lot of credibility to anyone who tried to tell me that Jesse had a piece of that action, but he does.  In fact, he's down- right nearly- likeable in person.  Who'da thunk?

But that's not the point of this Rant.  Before Governor Ventura started his radio show, Jesse took some questions from his audience of Musictech College and Minnesota Academy of Recording Arts students.  One of the more strident questioners was a young woman who was upset that she couldn't afford to pay her private college tuition and her apartment rent on the income she made from her two part-time jobs.  She was convinced that Jesse owed her an explanation of why "the government" didn't provide her with low income housing assistance.  Jesse tried to make the best of the question by explaining how she would appreciate her education that much more because she'd earned it.  He explained how he'd tried to redirect higher education funding to direct student loans and grants, but was shot down by the Minnesota legislature who left the education system in charge of that money.  He did his usual bit on how citizens shouldn't expect the government to make every personal decision as painless as possible.  It was obvious that she wasn't happy with his answers.

I've seen that reaction a lot, when people want "the government" to pay for something they want to do; or something they did that turned out to have unexpected personal costs.  This afternoon, while I was cutting next winter's firewood and thinking about my own work/education history, it struck me why that expectation is especially irritating to, what's becoming, a minority of citizens. 

Because the government (especially the federal government) is so out of control and so deep into our personal lives, too many Americans are beginning to think of that institution as a free-standing entity.  It's not.  Even in places where the government is a vicious monster that exists solely for the purpose of mangling the lives of its citizens, that government only exists at the will of the public.  It might take an incredible act of will to end government's existence, but that government still stands because its citizens allow it to stand.  In our case, we Americans are the government without any great effort on our part.  We may be too lazy to exercise our responsibilities in that capacity, but the enemy we've met is still us. 

When someone insists on getting something from "the government," they're really insisting on getting it from each of us.  Individually.  Me, in particular. 

When Enron's execs ask their boy, Gee Wiz Bush, to hand them a few billion dollars worth of federally protected oil fields, they're asking for that handout from you and me.  Especially me.  I have a particular resentment for any money taken from me to give to the rich.  At the other end of the spectrum, the pico-economic level, when a single mother expects the government to subsidize her decision to become a parent, she's asking for that help from you and me.  Just like the rich folks. 

We approaching the tip of the pendulum where the people insisting on being helped outnumber the people being asked to provide that help.  We've passed the point where the people providing assistance out-vote the people getting assistance.  Today, the majority of folks in ballot booths are performing the act of voting themselves rich.

I had a strange and personal experience with this mindset, about twenty-five years ago.  A high school friend, who I hadn't heard from in nearly a decade, had spent his first out-of-Dodge years playing professional baseball.  He'd done a couple of years playing college ball, a couple of years in the minors, three years in "the Big Show," and a couple more years in the minor leagues before deciding he'd thrown enough baseballs for a lifetime.  Then, he picked a nice ivy league college and spent the next few years getting a Masters in Psychology.  Once he finished with college, he discovered he'd spent his baseball wad and a bunch more.  He was in debt and was beginning an career that might not pay much more than the interest on that debt until he was established; or discovered he wasn't a good listener and chose another occupation.  So, he did what any logical modern American would do; he wrote to every person he'd ever known and asked us to help pay off his debts and finance his new practice.  Since he was trying to get rid of his debt, he wasn't asking for loans, he was asking for no-strings-attached handouts.

At the time, I was supporting a wife and two kids on $2.88 an hour.  My empathy for a guy who had a college degree and had earned the American League's minimum wage was very limited.  I found that everyone I knew, who this guy had contacted, was at least as offended by the ex-pitcher's pitch.  Nobody found the time to mail him the spare change they'd stored in their couch pillows.

This past Friday, I found myself regurgitating the same old resentment for being told that I had an obligation to pay for someone else's personal choices.  In 2002, Americans are so lame that we expect to be subsidized for private school expenses?   What's next?  Even with my ability to wildly exaggerate every idiotic situation, I can't think of anything more extravagant (or wimpy) than that.

About 100 years ago, my grandparents bagged their belongings on a cargo ship, signed in at Ellis Island, transferred their stuff to a Santa Fe train, and were dumped in eastern Kansas where they were given the freedom to build a subsistence farm and a community; or starve.  Today, immigrants sue for welfare benefits, regardless of their legal status and kids believe they have an inalienable right to the comforts of middle-class while indulging themselves in whatever strange pursuit that might attract their momentary interest or fantasy.  Wow!  You've come a long way, babies. 

The next time some fantasy-player, nouveau-conservative babbles about how Reagan overwhelmed the evil-empire of Communism by burying the country in military-industrial debt, I promise to lose my lunch.  We didn't beat our socialist enemies, we became them.  Thanks for nothing, Ronnie.

April 2002

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