Benjamin Wachs: Blaming the government — until we need it
Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared that the federal government isn’t doing enough to combat Texas wildfires that are raging out of control.
“I am dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much needed assistance they deserve,” Perry said.
Wait, I’m confused. Does this mean Perry doesn’t want to secede from America? Because back in August of 2009 he told a Tea Party rally that Texas might leave the United States because the federal government was too intrusive. Now he’s insisting that the federal government take away his state’s sovereign right to burn.
It’s the Tea Party line that federal food inspectors take away a state citizen’s right to be poisoned, and that federal minimum wages take away a state citizen’s right to starve. I had thought that a principled conservative like Perry wouldn’t come crawling to the tyranny of federal power in his hour of need just because something’s on fire.
But it’s hard to blame him. Most of us are hypocrites in exactly the same way. Just like Perry is happy to trash the federal government until he needs something from it, America has entered a period where we are all generally unwilling to support the institutions we depend on to support us.
We depend on public infrastructure like roads and power grids, but don’t want to pay taxes to keep them up; we refuse to pay for adequate public education and then complain that there isn’t enough skilled labor; we demand that the Environmental Protection Agency be stripped of its power to enforce clean air laws and then scream at the government when corporations poison the air.
The failure to support the institutions we rely on is commonly considered to be a failure of capitalism and democracy, but nothing could be further from the truth. After all, it was democratic capitalism (in various forms over 200 years) that built these institutions in the first place.
Today we’re refusing to the support the democratic institutions our forefathers built not because capitalism has failed, but because it has been so successful. It has provided so well for so many of us that we’ve come to take such prosperity for granted, and assume it will continue even if we don’t pitch in.
That won’t work.
Rick Perry’s assault on the federal government’s effectiveness has played a small part in making the federal government less effective when he needs it, just like the deregulation of the financial industry eventually led to a global financial collapse.
“You have to ask (FEMA), ‘Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?’” Perry said of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as if a federal government that takes care of more than one state is a problem. But that’s the wrong question. The question is, how do we build government agencies that can address all the problems set before them?
It’s ironic to hear a man who has spent years braying that the federal government needs to be smaller now whining that his piece of the pie isn’t big enough — but it also represents the challenge we face as a nation. Do we build capacity together, or burn separately?
All the free markets in the world can’t help us if we won’t invest in our own future.
Benjamin Wachs writes for Messenger Post Media's print and online editions. Read his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.