Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#110, October 24, 2000


by Marylaine Block

I think I have figured out why Americans find Bush's campaign so appealing. He is selling us our favorite mythology about ourselves: that we are a strong, self-reliant people who don't need government to help us.

It is, after all, something we've believed for a long, long time. We believed it throughout the 1800s at the same time we were asking government to move the Indians out of the way and give us their land to settle on.

We believed it while we were asking the government to build telegraph and railroad lines to link the two ends of our nation together. We believed it the whole time we were asking our government to restrict immigration, protect our industries with tariffs, and make child labor illegal.

When Upton Sinclair told us in 1906 about conditions in the meatpacking plants, we demanded that government make our food safe. (And continued to believe in our self-reliance.)

In the depression, when banks failed and our life savings vanished, we asked the government to insure our savings accounts. When private charity was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of unemployed, we asked government to provide jobs for our young people, and guarantee an income for our elderly, no matter what became of their investments.

That work the government paid young people to do also built a better future for us, by bringing electricity to rural areas and constructing the dams and irrigation systems that brought water to the arid west. And we continued to believe that our hard work alone got us through the hard times.

After World War II, we asked government to thank our soldiers by offering them free higher education -- one of the best investments we ever made, since those newly educated men created a vast middle class and a booming post-war economy. We asked government to build the highways that made it easy for us to settle in the brand new suburbs made possible by government loans. And we told ourselves it was our own talent and effort that earned us the good life.

When the polio epidemic came, threatening all our children with possibile paralysis or life in an iron lung, we asked the government to find a polio vaccine. When we realized our rivers were full of raw sewage and industrial waste, we asked government to clean them up, and it did -- one of the unheralded success stories of government. When our elderly found it hard to pay their medical bills, we asked the government to provide Medicare. And as our average life spans increased, we patted ourselves on the back. After all, we did it all by ourselves.

When middle class families couldn't afford to send their children to college, we asked the government to provide grants and loans (which many of our "self-made" young men and women didn't bother to repay).

When cheap Chinese knockoffs of computer software flooded the market, notoriously libertarian Silicon Valley executives begged Washington to negotiate with the Chinese government for protection of their patents.

When hurricanes and floods and earthquakes devastate our homes and cities, we expect the government to help us rebuild, because the job would be too big for any town or state to undertake, even if its tax base hadn't been destroyed by the disaster. George W. himself hasn't been shy about asking the government to help Texas recover from flood, fire, and drought.

Someone once said that the proof of a fine intellect is the ability to hold two mutually contradictory beliefs at the same time. By that standard, we Americans are a remarkably intelligent species. Government? We don't' need no stinkin' government!

Until we do, anyway.

Don't get me wrong: self-reliance IS a great virtue. So is humility, and we're nowhere near as good at that one.

The fact is, when problems are too big, too expensive, and cross too many jurisdictional lines, ONLY government can muster the power and resources to help. Forgetting all the help we got on our way to success keeps us from admitting our responsibility to pay it forward to the next generation.

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