“Us” vs “Them”

Evansville Courier & Press columnist John Gottcent wrote a piece, touching on the health care debate, about how we see the government:

“‘They’ is the term with which we most often describe our government,” she said, “and it creates the false impression that government is something other than us, something foreign and inimical to our interests. ‘They raised our sales tax last year.’ ‘They’re going to build a Downtown arena.’ ‘I don’t want them telling me how to take care of my medical needs.’

“It’s a far cry,” she continued, “from Abraham Lincoln’s ideal of a government of, by and for the people. And it leads us astray from the notion that government provides for the needs of the community, a group to which we all belong.

I don’t think this is a point that gets made nearly enough. And the implications of this simple framing device are huge. If we start to see the government as some distant “other”, it becomes too easy to go beyond a healthy skepticism for power and into the strange, reality-bending spiral of conspiracy theories (e.g, birtherism, death panels) and justification for violence that we’ve seen epitomized in the current health care debate.

Instead, we need to look at government as what – and who – it really is in our country:

  • My grandfather, who was a letter carrier for his whole life.
  • My neighbors who work for the local school district and the county Clerk’s office.
  • My friends, who help design GIS systems for the National Parks Service and keep the computers of the local courts running.
  • Members of my church, who work in our Congressman’s local office helping constituents, and provide a voice for our colleges in the state legislature.

This is what democracy – or, to be as precise as my libertarian friends, a constitutional democratic republic – is all about. There is no “us” and “them” when it comes to the government – there’s only us. And while our system of government may not yield perfect results, it’s one that can work well if we believe in the system.