Government: of the People, by the People, for the People…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, December 7, 2009

A few years ago I was in Washington DC in July. For those of you who don’t know, DC is a swamp. Or rather, it was built in what was formerly (and, some would argue, is currently) a sweaty, steaming, thick, suffocating swamp. So if you are fool enough to go out for a run (and I was), it’s best to do it in the early morning before all the oxygen goes away. It is also a safer time to wind yourself through the city before it becomes packed with people and cars.

This particular morning I ran from the Elliot Spitzer Hotel (that’s not the real name; I can’t seem to recall it. I could Google it. It’s the hotel where Spitzer hooked up when he was in town. I tell you this because I think it’s really sad that this is what I do remember. Wow. Will future stories of Florida be relatable only through Tiger Woods references?) But I digress. I ran from the hotel, down past the White House, on to the Mall, and eventually made my way to the Lincoln Memorial just as the park workers started to allow people on to the grounds. And I was the only people.

I ran up the steps and stood dripping with sweat before the great man, just me and him. A look one side to read the Gettysburg Address chiseled into the wall. A look to the other side to read his second inauguration address. A turn to see the sun rising over the Washington Monument and the Capitol beyond. And then back to the run. I have never felt so “one” with my country. Not necessarily patriotic (which I think is best exemplified by Mel Brooks’s 2000 year-old man’s national anthem for his cave) — but a feeling that I am the United States and the United States is me.

“…and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”

So we can argue and discuss the necessary roles of our government and its optimal size, but we should not forget that it, our government, is us. Trying to disassociate ourselves with a “the dern government screws up everything” won’t work. It’s weak and cowardly. If something is screwed up, it’s because we all screwed it up. And we all better get serious about fixing it. It won’t be nice, and it won’t be easy. You can ask Abraham Lincoln about that.

1 Comment »

  1. hoz said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    John, you’re reminding me of a summer afternoon when Janet and I were walking around the mall in DC. We stopped for a while at the Jefferson Memorial and read the inscriptions on the walls. It was fairly late in the day when we got to the Lincoln memorial. We went inside and sat on the floor to the left of Abe’s statue, enjoying the coolness of the marble floor. There was an inscription on the wall in front of us, a few paragraphs from one of his speeches. I remember being incredibly impressed by the eloquence and insight. It gave me a sense of pride in our heritage, as it combined idealism and pragmatism in an inspirational message.

    Looking back now, I can’t help but wonder if we have not lost something. Our system now seems fundamentally broken, beset by petty bickering, our politicians seem more focused in gaining control than in actually doing things, much less than in doing the right thing. Recently many people have been pointing out that we are no longer capable of implementing optimal solutions, but are forced to accept sub-optimal ones. I fear they are right. And it does not bode well for our republic.

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