Rick Holmes: We built this government
The Republicans spoke last week, and they had a lot to say. They attacked President Barack Obama, praised the job creators, shared the pain of families facing hard times, told touching family stories and said they best things they could think of about Mitt Romney.
This week, the Democrats get their turn. As they gather in Charlotte, Democrats are fine-tuning their responses to the pitches made by Republicans in Tampa.
I hope one of them responds to a couple of Republican themes that got under my skin.
The first is this complaint that America faces, as Rick Santorum said in Tampa “a nightmare of dependency with almost half of America receiving some sort of government assistance.”
Who are these welfare moochers sponging off Uncle Sam, these junkies addicted to the public dole?
I was at a birthday party for one of them earlier this summer. My dad turned 100 years old.
He served in the Navy in World War II and for 20 more years in the Naval Reserves. For that, he gets a monthly check from the government. He worked in the private sector for more than half a century, and every paycheck included deductions for Social Security and, later, Medicare. In return, he gets monthly checks and help with his medical bills.
He’s one of 55 million elderly and disabled Americans. It’s just not right to casually lump them in with welfare queens, crooks, slackers and the rest of the undeserving poor who are the traditional targets of Republican scorn.
And while they profess sympathy for the victims of recession, Republicans insult them with the same broad brush, shaming them for collecting unemployment, food stamps and reduced-rate school lunches.
Nor do their policies reflect their sympathy. They want to cut unemployment and food stamps for laid-off workers. They offer no help for families facing foreclosure or young people struggling to pay off student loans. If they lose their health coverage along with their jobs, there will be no "Obamacare" to help them replace it.
Then there’s this whole “we built it” business.
The cult of job creator requires no credit for a company’s success be shared with anyone: Not with those who actually do the jobs, not with the community where the business succeeds and certainly not with the government.
So Sher Valenzuela, a candidate for lieutenant governor in Delaware, bragged to the convention about the thriving small business she built all by herself – and didn’t mention the SBA loans and government contracts that helped her succeed.
Paul Ryan, in telling the story of how his mother started a new career after his dad died, left out the part about the government-subsidized bus she took every day to a government-subsidized university where she obtained the skills she needed to help her family survive.
Amid all this gabbing about how government can’t do anything right, a hard rain fell again on New Orleans. Isaac dumped more water on New Orleans than Katrina did seven years before. But this time, the levees held, thanks to $14 billion the government spent building a new, stronger flood control system.
And more than 34 million miles from Tampa, the rover Curiosity began roaming across the plains of Mars, a feat of technological leadership that shows what America can do.
No small business, no heroic entrepreneur, and no large corporation could have fixed those levees or built that Mars Rover. We built them - “we” being the United States, acting through a government the Republicans disdain and the Democrats should celebrate.
I’m not sure either of these conventions will change many minds. Polls show almost all the voters’ minds are made up. But the national conversation they reflect is an important one.
As with the Congressional election two years ago, this one is all about the size of government, the role of government, what government can do and whom it should help. We the people built this country, and we rebuild its government with every election.
We’ve got 65 days to figure out what kind of government to build this time.
Rick Holmes, opinion editor for the MetroWest (Mass.) Daily News, blogs at Holmes & Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.