Cookout time again--the odor of charcoal lighter hanging over the backyard; the picnic table loaded with body parts of birds and mammals, soaking in their own grease; macaroni and potato salad, awash in mayonnaise; baked beans gooped up with pork fat and brown sugar. Heavy eating for heavy people!
I was pulling another cold one out of the washtub when my neighbor Lee came over, wearing a big grin on his face.
“What do you say, Ace?” he asked. “About ready to admit that this administration has lived up to its promise?”
Politics is the last thing I want on top of a bloated stomach. But Lee already had his hand locked on my arm. After years of trial and error, I’ve found ‘Never argue with a drunken neighbor’ to be a good rule of thumb. We were going to have this conversation or have a wrestling match there on the lawn.
“Almost eight years into it, we have a pretty good idea what to expect from them,” I ventured cautiously.
“Damned straight!” he said. “They campaigned for office as the anti-government government. They told us they wanted to starve government or drown it in a bathtub. They said that big government was the problem--that government was inefficient, incompetent, untrustworthy, and corrupt. Did they get it right, or what?”
“So you’re really happy with the way things have turned out?” I asked.
“Who wouldn’t be?” he chortled. “You’ve got a few years under your belt. How many other administrations have delivered like that on their basic premise?”
“Not many,” I admitted.
“Not many?” he scoffed. “Try ‘none.’ They really came through for us. This group is totally committed to discrediting government. They’ve been everything they warned us about. Who could ever trust the feds again, after what these guys have accomplished?”
“I think I see your point,” I said.
“It’s hard to miss, Ace. Can you believe they got us into war based on weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist!”
“Is that the ‘incompetent’ part or the ‘untrustworthy’ part?” I wanted to know.
“You can’t tell!” he said enthusiastically. “That’s the great thing about it. Did they lie, or were they just incompetent? They can’t reveal which it was, because they’ve classified everything as a state secret. But either way, they’ve proven their point.”
“You know, now that you mention it, I just read this week about fifteen billion dollars of funding for the war in Iraq that simply vanished, with no record of where it went. Is that another ‘incompetent’?”
“That can’t be ‘incompetent,’ with that much money there for the taking. That’s got to be ‘corrupt,’” he said with conviction. “They’re trying to cover all the bases.”
“So whenever they screw up, it’s a win/win for them?” I asked.
“Right,” he said. “It’s all an attempt to shred your faith in government. Kidnapping guys off the street, flying them to secret prisons, torturing them, holding people for years without releasing their names or telling their families where they are, never charging them with any crimes--are you ever gonna think about government in a warm, fuzzy way again?”
“Not anytime soon,” I had to confess.
“A government that reads your e-mails, listens in on your phone calls, even demands to see what library books you’ve checked out?”
“It makes my skin crawl,” I admitted.
“That’s just what they were hoping for!” Lee said, leaning my way, while his beery breath held us together in a boozy bonhomie. “How about standing government on its head? Civil rights divisions that uphold racial and sex discrimination? Regulatory agencies that team up with industries they’re supposed to regulate? Environmental agencies that protect polluters? Agencies that turn emergencies into catastrophes?”
“I see what you’re saying. It’s as if government with this administration exists to prevent anything happening that really needs to be done.”
Lee wasn’t even listening--nothing new for him. He was on a roll: “Food prices going through the roof? Record home foreclosures? $4 a gallon gas? Colleges that cost more than $40,000 a year? Unaffordable health care? Tax breaks for the rich while the income gap is widening like an interstate? Tax cuts while the country is bleeding red ink? A prescription drug program that’s a bonanza for drug companies and a nightmare for the sick? Denying global warming exists, when the whole planet is at risk? Two and a half trillion dollars for wars stretching into infinity?”
“Whoa! Slow down! That’s a heck of a list. What are you saying, Lee? That they’ll go to any length to prove their point?”
“You’ve got to commit yourself to your ideals,” he said with a belch. “‘That government is best which governs least.’”
“This seems more like ‘That government is best which governs worst.’ Are they prepared to pay the price?” I inquired.
“Well, they don’t really pay the price,” he said. “Other people do. That’s the great thing about it.”
“Gee, I don’t know,” I said. “I have Patty and Kevin to think about. And maybe grandkids down the road. I hate to stick them with a mess like this.”
“Don’t sweat the long term stuff,” he said. “Learn to think in the short term. What I wouldn’t give for four more years of this team.” He jerked his arm up and down in a hammering motion. “That just might be enough to drive the last nail in government’s coffin.”
Then I heard myself say something I never imagined myself saying: “Lee, why don’t you have another beer?”
© Tony Russell, 2008