Do you have a favorite teacher? A time when the parking meter reader saw you running to your car, smiled, and moved on? An experience picking up a marriage license that turned into a whole story on its own because of the care and humor of the clerk at the desk? Are you glad your roads are plowed in winter, and repaired in summer? Are you amazed, as I am, that firefighters show up at an emergency within mere minutes of being called?
Here’s an easy one: Do you like your letter carrier?
Most people do—even those who say they don’t like government.
And the thing about not liking the government is that it isn’t even a left/right, blue/red, Democrat/Republican thing—there are harsh critics on all sides.
Some of the criticism is well-deserved, of course, and helpful to make government more responsive. The misuse of government power can be alarming, such as the accumulation of military-grade equipment by local police stations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is on the ground soon after disasters strike, but in the aftermath of Katrina, few could have argued it conducted itself competently. The answer is not to eliminate FEMA—after all, if not the government, who else would be there in this type of emergency? The answer is to make FEMA, make government, work well for us all.
I would also argue that some of the criticism of government—from the left and right–makes it harder for it to do the things that can only be accomplished if we do them together– through public action.
In my book, The Privatization of Everything, I argue that, while people are understandably skeptical of “government,” many of the things Americans don’t like about government actually stem from too much corporate influence in politics. It’s important we continue to make that distinction clear.
Of course, many of the hot takes on government, particularly from the right, are lazy cheap shots, designed to undermine faith in government and other public institutions and, as conservative activist Grover Norquist once said, “shrink it down to the size of where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
That was certainly the long game kicked off by Ronald Reagan’s assault on government, reiterated by the Contract with America, and repeated every election, even by politicians who gladly seek and accept federal dollars in their home states and hometowns.
But government is behind nearly every major innovation and discovery our nation has experienced, from the Internet to the covid-19 vaccine, from the Moon landing to the cancer-fighting moon shot now underway, from MRIs to GPS.
And behind every service and program and policy of government, and at every level, there are hardworking people, civil servants and political appointees alike, who build roads and bridges, inspect food and drugs, teach and tutor, drive passenger trains and school buses, provide veterans with healthcare, process child support payments, maintain our national parks, and much, much more.
I like to say that government is ubiquitous and invisible at the same time. But you probably know government workers and you’ve definitely benefited from their efforts.
This week there were celebrations of those engaged in public service that are worth mentioning.
Teacher Appreciation Week is recognized by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, in addition to a proclamation by President Biden. Check out stories of how teachers have changed lives, including stories from Adele, Bono, Patrick Stewart, and Pitbull
This was also Public Service Recognition Week—be sure to check out the nominees for Service to America Medals by the Partnership for Public Service.
It’s a great opportunity to show your support to the public service workers doing good for our communities, but this should be something we do not just this week, but every week. And, at the very least, say thanks to the letter carrier.