Frank Bruni’s complaint about Ebola causing a loss of faith in government (Opinion Exchange, Oct. 21) is just another in a long litany of false contradictions and perplexing nonsense that is served up in the name of analysis. The reality is very simple. It’s as if someone somewhere once promised Bruni that electing public officials and creating large bureaucracies would somehow outmaneuver the clever viruses, the smart-alec financial cheaters and the psychotic warmongers that seem to proliferate in the 24-hour news cycle. What is the president doing about it? Our indignant expectations are completely out of whack. Why? Because we can’t connect the dots.
• Dot No. 1: Public policy is a big-picture thing. It doesn’t get technical because, when it tries, the details get messy. Working out the implementation of legislation with vague language takes a lot of time. Existing laws and other rules often constrain new policy.
• Dot No. 2: Politicians are idiots. Don’t expect these guys (and they are mostly guys) to know or understand details. Backslapping negotiators can’t be bothered to know how things work. (The honest ones will tell you this.) All they know is how to negotiate to make it sound like they might. Leave it to staff to sort out the actual functioning of the ideas they cook up.
• Dot No. 3: No new taxes. It takes money to do things, and underfunding agencies with mandates is standard operating procedure. Paying salaries to highly trained professionals required to regulate financial markets, run public health agencies or conduct engineering reviews requires tax money. We don’t want to pay for it. Furthermore, if we happen to disagree with the policy in the first place, the best way to derail new regulations is to defund the agency in charge of implementation.
• Dot No. 4: Competence breeds complacency. By some fluke of history, there have been some marginally competent big public programs that work — Social Security, the military, the interstate highway system. The apparent success of these projects lulls us into thinking that all public programs should always work. Never mind Dots No. 1, 2 and 3, and the disdain visited upon public service by the ghosts of heroic entrepreneurs. We think because we can drop missiles on desert despots from thousands of miles away that the Department of Motor Vehicles should process our license renewal expeditiously. False but attractive syllogisms replace clear thinking.
• Dot No. 5: Fox News. The wholesale replacement of factual news reporting with bloviating, indignant entertainment delivered by well-dressed liars has debased large segments of the population into thinking that they understand how the world works. Studies have shown that viewers of these “news” shows are misinformed, have a poor grasp of facts and are likely to vote for demagogues spouting the same nonsense.
• Dot No. 6: Land of dreams. We live in a mythology created by our homegrown style of wishful thinking. Getting food from freezers, getting entertainment from TV, getting sex from football, getting clear skin from a bottle, getting justice from guns. Our universe is a fragmented glossy checkerboard of slick sell jobs engineered by profit-making enterprises. Our expectations are manipulated by our desires, and our desires are fed by the relentless reptilian requirements for reproduction and revenge.
• Dot No. 7: Superheroes are real. The president used to be one. Teddy Roosevelt came close, and the legend continues to feed our unconscious desire to see the big guy kick some ass. Why, we even elected George W. Bush, who tried and abjectly failed to fill the macho role we assigned him. Spent a lot of money but got less than a “B”-rated performance. Never mind that — we’ve got Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man”), Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Terminator”) and the duke himself, John Wayne, to be our real presidents. The guy in the White House is only there for a short time and, furthermore, he’s black, so there is no way he can be the superhero we expect to have.
This unfortunate constellation is entirely created by our own, self-centered attitudes, which are fed back to us by willing partners whom we pay handsomely to reinforce our worst fears. We call it “free enterprise” and reward the short-term benefactors even as the evidence of our perfidy mounts like coal-ash piles near power stations. The bigger joke about the advertised failure of government? It’s all us, baby! We sent those guys there to do the job that big corporations pay for, and we are getting exactly what we want. Now stop complaining, please.
George Hutchinson, of Minneapolis, is an architect and business owner.