Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Mark Shields Talks About Government

He’s not bad as far as it goes with corporate media journos (link here), though he has uttered an unkind word about bloggers from time to time. However, I think this is something to remember periodically (spoken at a commencement address given to Hobart and William Smith Colleges on May 12, 2002).

Permit me a word of what has become the mindless demonizing of government.

Government at its best has always been and can be a crucial instrument of helping people to help themselves. After all, it was the national government that affirmed the Bill of Rights. Our precious natural resources have been protected, preserved against the shortsighted and the greedy, not by local government but by the national government.

The national government has been accused of diminishing freedom, and that is true. Yes, "the freedom" of the privileged and the powerful to work 11-year-old children in mills and mines and in factories was abolished. Abolished by the government, the national government. "The freedom" of powerless workers to endure squalid conditions for near starvation wages was abolished by the national government. The freedom of the majority to impose racial segregation to deprive African-Americans, Latino-Americans, even those who had fought for their country and spilled their own blood to buy their own child a hamburger, a Coke and fries, or to use a public restroom. Yes, those "freedoms" were proudly abolished. Not by states' rights, not by local government or privatization or Dow Jones, but our national government.

Just 30 years ago in the United States, 34 of every 100 Americans over the age of 65 lived in poverty. Today, largely because of what other Americans have done through their own national government the percentage of seniors living in poverty has been cut by three-quarters.

Government can and does make mistakes. Government is not perfect. It is flawed and it can be terminally frustrating in its unresponsiveness.

But it is important to our national community and confidence that we celebrate our successes. In the very lifetime of the members of the Class of 2002, think of what we have achieved in this nation for the environment. At the beginning of the decade in which many of you were born, three out of four rivers in the United States were unswimable and unfishable. The Great Lakes, the greatest fresh water gift any people had been blessed with by a generous Providence, were actually dying. So polluted and infected was the Cuyahoga River running through the city of Cleveland that it actually caught fire. And this nation committed itself under a Republican president, Richard Nixon, and a Democratic Congress to end our abuse of nature. Just in your own lifetimes, we have gone from three out of four rivers being unswimable and unfishable, to four out of five being swimable and fishable, to 99 percent of the lead being removed from the air, to the Great Lakes now alive and vibrant and vital, spiritually, economically, recreationally because of what those who went before you did, and cared to do and committed to do. Your lungs are healthier, your lives are longer and better, and so will be your children's. And it is important to celebrate.

It was a great Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "The government is us. We are the government, you and I."
(Note: I’m doing more site housekeeping stuff and changing a few links; that’s why I’m reposting this.)

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