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Hope is our Responsibility, Too

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When people talk about Washington, DC, they often forget to mention that in addition to housing the seat of government, people also live there.  I am one of them.  Should you make your residence in the District, you realize before too long that the news stories, pictures, and live video constantly beamed out focuses on a very small section of town.Hope

Capitol Hill is its own parallel universe, if you will, and one is either wholly beholden to it or views it as a separate entity.  Many rely heavily upon the decisions Congress makes as part of their occupations, but they could not be more separate from the actual decision making made by the partisan beehive a few miles away.   

What troubles me about the recently passed debt reduction plan is that it shows how irresponsible we as a country have been financially.  A kick-the-can-down-the-road approach may be politically expedient, but it is not responsible lawmaking.  The District, to cite one example, is infamously known for major issues with ancient, decaying water mains.  Once every month or so, it seems, a pipe bursts, flooding everything close by and sometimes causing damage to homes in its path.  Some of the mains are over a century old, and some even older than that.  There isn’t much one can do to fix the entire system, the money just doesn’t exist for a complete repair.  So if there is any good news about this situation, it is that at least the decrepit main can be replaced with something brand new.   

The Metro public transportation system, once a crown jewel of my city, has also lost much of its luster in recent years.  It expanded rapidly in the 1990’s, increased ridership as a result, and had every right to be a source of civic pride.  Now, two years after a fatal rail collision thought to be caused by the failure of aging equipment, insufficient reforms in infrastructure havedeteriorated that reputation.  Escalators and elevators in stations break down constantly, necessitating extensive and time-consuming repairs.  In the midst of a sweltering summer, some older cars don’t even have air conditioning.  The entire system is in need of complete refurbishment, not for a course of Botox or a few sessions at the tanning bed.  The best solution that has been offered is for older cars to be removed from service and for more workers to be assigned to fix escalators.  A new slick ad campaign makes a lot of promises, but Washingtonians above all other people know to be suspicious of expensive campaigns that provide lots of promises.

This is whate we have come to in this country.  Though the cost seemed massive at the time, the controversial stimulus package did fix and is still fixing roads, interstate highways, and bridges.  Because it is spread thinly across the United States, it’s difficult to discern the total impact, making it easy for others to be skeptical. 

I myself agree with some economists that the stimulus was too small.  Metro, in particular, needs a massive infusion of capital to regain its former status.  Until then, fares will be increased, bus routes will be eliminated, needed expansions to the system will be put on hold, and workers will not take pride in their jobs.  Our country has reached the same state as a formerly stellar, but now less than ideal mass transit system.   

An infuriatingly piecemeal approach to governance and problem solving is all we have been offered.  Massive structural reforms are what are needed most, but either the money simply isn’t present, or those solutions would grind government down to a screeching halt, never winning anyone’s approval.  We who are not legislators and government figures must find a way to avoid any barely adequate resolution.  In the previous two examples I have mentioned, that superficial solutions only make matters worse with time.  We may act as though we are grateful for that which we have, fearing we might lose even that should we register a complaint.  But dysfunctional systems cry out for change.  It was for this reason that we voted in our current president.  And if we have learned anything in over two and a half years, it is that government cannot save us.

Direct participation beyond simply marking a ballot sheet is the only solution I see.  Marching in the streets is not my intent here; responding to a crisis with innovative solutions is more along the lines I’m suggesting.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is no reason we ought to feel we need to stick with a failing model if we can come up with something better on our own.  But we must believe in ourselves first, which is what has tripped all of us up time and time again.  When public servants cease to be servants of the public, then we ought to question the system.  We can rail against lobbyist contributions and the corruption of the office, but I think a much better attitude is to place faith in ourselves first.  The civility and decorum President Obama has sought to bring to government have been the downfall of his legislative agenda.  Even with a solid majority in both the House and Senate, passing and enacting major portions were protracted, unsatisfying, and heated affairs.  The t-shirts so many of us wore that were labeled “Hope” showed the face of a man we elected to lead us.  I’d have much rather they showed our faces, instead.        

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About cabaretic

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “And if we have learned anything in over two and a half years, it is that government cannot save us.”

    There you go, Kevin. That’s the beginning of a solution.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    But by the same token, we cannot fix the problems with our infrastructure if we are not willing to pay the taxes.

    “You get what you pay for” – and if you insist on paying less and less, that’s what you’ll get in return. At its most basic level, that’s why America no longer has the best standard of living in the world – and the countries that have a better living standard than America ALL pay significantly higher taxes.

  • Baronius

    “Our country has reached the same state as a formerly stellar, but now less than ideal mass transit system.”

    You argue that Washington’s subways are a microcosm of the nation’s problem: not enough public money. But what if Washington’s, and the nation’s problem is: too many people in Washington?

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com Kevin

    There’s a good website I’ll share with you that details the numerous problems with Metro. It is entitled Unsuck DC Metro.

    Population-wise, DC’s numbers have gained steadily but haven’t outstripped the resources of the system. Corners have been cut over the years with Metro and those chickens are finally coming home to roost when there isn’t enough money to fix them.

    If we mean too many people involved with the process of governance, I would argue instead that the wrong people are involved. And I would also argue that now, public money is the only solution we have left. Privatizing the system has given us debacles like Blackwater. People don’t realize how much of the Federal Government is under private control and how these companies provide no job security and often no health insurance benefits.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    The obvious answer is the same as always when it comes to the fantasy of “limited government” – the greater and more diverse the population, and the greater the technology, the greater the need for regulation and the government that will enforce such regulation.

    I know you hate the idea, but as I’ve pointed out before, you can’t govern NYC with a government the size of Key West’s.

    The conservative goal of “limited government” is a fantasy…because it is sociologically impossible to have a limited government in a technologically-advanced first-world nation. And all the protestations to the contrary won’t change that fact.

    So how does one determine the limit of the size of government? Aye, there’s the rub! But slicing-and-dicing education/science/transportation/environment protection budgets willy-nilly all in the name of “small government” is NOT the way – for each of those help America proportionally FAR more than they cost in terms of taxes or burdens on businesses.

  • http://judefolly.com jude folly

    enjoyed this piece. sooner or later i think citizens of this great country will wake up and stop projecting their hopes or fears onto ‘the government’ and realize that the power to govern was always in their hands: they simply did not work together with the full participation of all other voters to restore functionality and accountability to governing institutions.

    most are distracted by the ‘he said, she said’ polemic between republicans and democrats, who are both essentially paid off by their heavy hitting campaign donors.

    as i’ve argued before, the election finance fix isn’t going to come from our representatives. it will have to be a change that voters come to a consensus about and agree to impose on the system itself.

  • Anarcissie

    Never, at any time in American history, has the power to govern anything larger than a small town been in the hands of the people. Our Constitution ensures that we will be governed by a wealthy, powerful elite; it was designed that way.

    Most of the current arguments about the ‘size of the government’ are fictitious. DC Metro is allowed to deteriorate, not because of some philosophy, but because the aforesaid ruling class thinks other things are more important, and it has sufficient powers and political savvy to work the system to that end. In some future circumstance, it may decide to spiff the system up again. In the case of New York City, improvements in the transit system turned out to be harbingers of massive gentrification, a process which greatly increased the wealth of real estate speculators and developers.

    I suppose things could be done differently, but most of the population, in spite of their complaints, evidently like things the way they are. There is no substantial activism going on to organize the systemic, revolutionary changes that would be needed to make a difference.

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