The Campaign Spot

Why Must ‘Every One of Us’ Make Government Work Better?

I’m amazed there isn’t more vocal scoffing and eye-rolling when President Obama offers meaningless blather like this:

We’ve got to have the brightest minds to help solve our biggest challenges. And it’s a reminder that in this democracy, we the people recognize that this government belongs to us, and it’s up to each of us and every one of us to make it work better. We can’t just stand on the sidelines. We can’t take comfort in just being cynical. We all have a stake in government success — because the government is us.

Wait, why is it “up to each of us and every one of us” to make the government work better?

I didn’t sign up for that job. You probably didn’t, either. The folks who run the government never seem all that interested in my suggestions about how to get it to work better, anyway.

I’ve got other stuff to do besides making an effort to make the federal government work better. You probably do, too.

I thought he spent most of 2007–08 telling us that he was the one who could get the federal government to work better, and then spent 2012 telling us we had to keep him in that job. Now he’s saying that “better” will require effort from . . . everyone. Apparently none of us are allowed to “stand on the sidelines,” or else the whole thing won’t work.

In fact, Obama says at the beginning, “as anyone knows, dealing with the federal government is not always high-technology and it’s not always user-friendly . . . Currently, when our government asks for bids on a project, it’s usually written in complicated language with complicated requirements that most people don’t understand.” Well, we didn’t write those forms. (Okay, I didn’t write those forms, and you probably didn’t.) Why is he saying we have to fix it?

You’re never going to get “each of us and every one of us” to agree on the best way to make the federal government work better. So if this idea really requires “each of us and every one of us” to pitch in to make it work, maybe we should scrap it. If the federal government really can’t work any better than this without every single American working towards the same goal, maybe we should scrap our current approach, set priorities on what we really need the federal government to do, and leave all the extra stuff to the states, local governments, the private sector, or nonprofits. Because when “everybody” is responsible, no one is responsible.

“The government is us.” No, it isn’t. I don’t work for the government. You may or may not. I may have voted for you, I may not have voted for you, but I don’t become a part of the government by voting. The identity of “government” — i.e., having a role in making and enforcing policy decisions — is quite separate from citizen.

I suppose nobody really listens to this sort of stuff from the president, anyway. This is just the speechwriting equivalent of elevator Muzak, pretty words and phrases strung together to sound good, regardless of whether or not they make sense.

If Obama really wants the federal government to work better, he could fill some of those empty inspector-general positions.

“Mr. President, the NSA domestic-surveillance program reports that there are still some Americans who are standing on the sidelines, refusing to help the federal government work better.”

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