Doing Something by John Markley

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Zonkers : One Thread

Doing Something

by John Markley

In order to maintain public support, a government must give the impression that it is accomplishing something, that it is useful to the society it rules. This is doubly true in modern America, where politicians have been promising more and more good things with the power they take. When they inevitably fail to deliver, they settle for the next best thing: a flurry of activity to create the illusion that they serve a useful function.

After the Columbine massacre, then-President Clinton advocated having the taxpayers pay for the funerals of the victims. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack, it is now being proposed that relatives of the dead be given tax break, burial funds, and other federal help. Most recently, it has been proposed that the federal government bail out the employees and investors of Enron. In each of these cases, politicians quickly saw the opportunity to be seen doing something, anything, and seized it. The issue of whether anything is actually done for the victims is largely irrelevant; all that is required is that a politician who wants to be regarded as doing something put forth some sort of proposal and mouth the proper platitudes.

The victims are just a stage prop; after all, plenty of people are murdered or defrauded every day, and the ďcompassionateĒ statesmen who rallied to the victims of Columbine or Enron donít waste their time putting on a show of getting them federal help, unless the publicís curiosity should choose them as itís new subject. Once public attention has moved to something else, it doesnít really matter if anything useful was actually done, only that the government gave the impression that it was doing something.

In the incidents named here- Columbine, Enron, the World Trade Center- there is another, very conspicuous factor. In each of these cases, the tragedy was the result of the governmentís abject failure to protect itís citizens, whether it was from crazed gunmen, dishonest business men, or foreign terrorists. The countryís twenty thousand and change gun laws did not stop two adolescents from illegally arming themselves for a rampage, and the police did nothing but cower in fear outside while the people the police are allegedly supposed to protect died, not daring to venture into the scene of the carnage until after the criminals had conveniently killed themselves. None of our great webs of regulation or our platoons of regulatory officials noticed anything about Enron. And no one in our veritable alphabet soup of law enforcement, intelligence, and defense agencies managed to catch wind of the rather large conspiracy to blow up the World Trade Center.

This creates a potential crisis: If the government is unable or unwilling to protect itĎs citizens, which is supposedly the chief justification for itís existence and concentration of power, why should people trust it or support it? More importantly, from a political point of view, why should we give it even more money and power to perform even more functions when it canít handle the tasks it has already taken on?

At this point, it is absolutely critical that everyone be given the impression that the government is doing something about the situation, lest the public start to get an inkling of how useless or outright harmful their leaders are. First, of course, all sorts of new laws are called for. It doesnít particularly matter what they are, or whether these laws are useful or harmful, as long as they have some sort of connection to the disaster.

Second, shower the surviving victim with various government goodies-free burials, bailouts, tax breaks, and the like. This shows the public how much the government, and in particular the compassionate congressman passing out the trinkets, cares about people. After all, when they show how compassionate and concerned they really are, you know that they really do care about you and your best interests, after all. And the trails of ruined lives and heaps of carcasses? Just an aberration, nothing you need to concern yourself with once the government gets itĎs new laws passed or powers granted. After all, Congress is Doing Something.

January 31, 2002

-- Anonymous, February 01, 2002


Moderation questions? read the FAQ