Our love-hate relationship with government

Printer-friendly versionSend to friendUsually, I don’t pay close attention to television while I’m on the exercise bike.  But a  news story televised early one morning last week caught my interest.


It was the report of the California guy who is so upset over government involvement in health care reform that he was making some pretty nasty phone threats to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.


It wasn’t the story that was surprising. Rather it was the anchorwoman’s ending comment. She noted that the suspect lived in government-subsidized housing, then commented something along the line of “no word on how he feels about the government involvement in housing.” I laughed at the somewhat less-than-journalistic remark. My guess is the guy is so fired up about health care that he does not see any irony in his dependence on government for housing.

Then there was the television interview with a Tea Party activist in Arizona who explained cheerfully to the camera that she and her husband decided to join the anti-government political rally because it was a lot more interesting than just sitting at home and collecting their social security checks. Bit of irony there, wouldn’t you say?


I had personal experience with this ironic clash of philosophies a few months ago. A woman whom I had passing acquaintance with about 40 years ago came through town, and a mutual friend organized a lunch gathering of a half a dozen people. The guest of honor was an attractive blonde, just as she had been in her younger years. What had changed dramatically was her politics. She had morphed from something of a free-spirit hippie-chick type to very conservative political activist.


As happens often with my group of friends these days, the table talk turned to aging parents and the challenges of taking care of them. The visitor had some experience with this situation in taking care of her own parents' needs. She offered a lot of advice about how to tap into government-financed health care programs for seniors. She seemed to know what she was talking about.


So, the rest of us were taken aback a bit when, after finishing lunch, she produced some petitions that she wanted us to sign demanding that Obama back away from “socialist” health care systems. She had nothing good to say about Obama or the attempt at health care reform. She did not trust government.


We politely avoided the petition. “You have the wrong crowd,” a friend chided gently. The group was too polite to point out that she apparently was okay with government-run health care for her mother.


I’ve seen it before, and I know I’ll see it again. It’s not exactly a “love-hate” relationship with the government. It’s more of a “use-hate” relationship. Go to a county political assembly, and the people in the audience will declare that they want more services from the government … and in the next breath, they will voice distain for “big government” and taxes. (So how would the increased services be paid for, and who would run them?) Talk to just about any rancher in this county, and sooner or later they’ll voice dislike for government regulations and government in general.  Yet, they pasture their cattle and sheep on public lands. They need the federal government in order to make their operations viable.


As a newspaper reporter, I’ve observed over the years as some county citizens argue fiercely against zoning regulations of any kind, fearing infringement on private property rights. Then, when somebody wants to develop a gravel pit next to their ranchette, they’re suddenly all for enforcing those hated regulations.


Last week, while taking care of business at the Town Hall, I ended up in a bit of a verbal squabble with a woman who declared that government has no business in health care. In fact, she didn’t think the government messed up virtually every program it is involved with. In the name of peace, I usually avoid political arguments with people I don’t know very well. But her declarations got my dander up. We ended up in a two-minute discussion with each of us standing by our opposing viewpoints. We were both feeling a bit huffy when the conversation ended. Of course, two hours later, I thought of a point I should have made: Her husband is a local government employee.


How ironic.