Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | October 8, 2008

What We Deserve

It has been said that “we get the government we deserve.” From what I can tell, the phrase originates with Thomas Jefferson who said, “The government you elect is government you deserve.” H.L. Mencken put it a bit more coarsely when he wrote, “People deserve the government they get, and they deserve to get it good and hard.”

The phrase is often quoted in a moment of disgust with the government, or with politicians, or with the way the political system seems to be functioning at that point in time. The phrase is also a popular one because, I contend, it is one of those truisms that is both succinct and spot-on every time, like Yogi Berra’s statement that “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” There can be no arguing the point.

We get the government we deserve when only 48 percent of the eligible population votes in a midterm election (according to the US Census Bureau figures for 2006). 52 percent of the “could be” voters don’t seem to care; so should it be any wonder that politicians can slip so much past us.  We get the government we deserve.

We get the government we deserve when individual citizens (and I would also assume many non-citizen residents) received nearly 1.5 trillion dollars ($1,500,000,000,000.00) from the government in 2005 (the last year such figures are available from the Census Bureau). Even if we take out retirement and disability benefits, the figure approaches 1 trillion dollars. And no one seems to bat an eyelash at this staggering amount of money, or care that an annual outlay of this proportion is simply unsustainable over the long term.  So the politicians don’t care either.  It can be presumed that many of the people receiving these dollars vote to keep this money coming in their direction; they will vote their own self-interests, at the expense of the national good.  We get the government we deserve.

We get the government we deserve when annual federal deficits lately have been running around 400 billion dollars ($400,000,000,000.00), and the national debt is now over 10 trillion dollars ($10,000,000,000,000.00) and climbing, and not many people seem to care. So the politicians don’t care either.  That is over $33,000.00 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.  And, again, no one seems to care.   And so these mind-boggling sums continue to pile up because those who have control of the purse-strings (or, perhaps more appropriately, have the authority to sign for the loans) continue to appropriate more and more money for themselves and their pet projects and their pet constituents and on and on—doling out money to sustain their own self-interests, at the expense of the national good.  We get the government we deserve.

We get the government we deserve when nearly 3 million people work directly for the federal government devouring a payroll of nearly 14 billion dollars (according to Census Bureau figures from 2006). Another 5 million people work for state governments around the country; and yet another 12 million people work for local governments nationwide. That is almost 14% the total full-time employees in this country. (Total employment stood at about 145 million people as of September 2008, according to the Bureau Of Labor Statistics.) That means a whole lot of people are lined up to vote their own self-interests, at the expense of the national good. What other industry has an appetite for employees such that they can gobble up 1/7th of a nation’s workforce?  We get the government we deserve.

Our government has ballooned in size beyond all sense of proportion for a population of 300 million people. Our government has been on a drunken binge of excess in taxation, in spending, in regulation, and in intrusion into the daily lives of citizens beyond anything ever imagined by the nation’s founders or supported by the constitution that they gave us. Ronald Reagan called it right nearly three decades ago when he declared, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

And so today we have exactly the government that we deserve—nothing better, nothing worse; but certainly bad enough. And I don’t see this changing anytime soon. After this next election, regardless of who is elected president, regardless of the make-up of the congress, not much will change. Voters will continue to put into office politicians who promise to give them the biggest kickbacks, and politicians will continue to pay off the voters who put them in office—and the cycle will continue.

For all of the talk of corruption in politics, I submit that the relationship that the average politician has with the average voter is corruption of the worst degree: The main preoccupation of the average politician is to stay in office, which means passing around as much money as possible to buy as many votes as possible; and the main concern of the voter when he marks his ballot is which politician is going to give him the most money for his vote.  Corruption breeds corruption, and the corrupt—both voters and politicians—will continue to perpetuate the cycle for their own self-interests, at the expense of the national good.

And so we will continue to get the government that we deserve. We don’t deserve better—at least not until we come to the place where the nation’s good becomes more important to her citizens than their own self interests.  We deserve the government we get, and we deserve to get it good and hard.

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Responses

  1. Correction: French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said that in a democracy, we get the government we deserve.

  2. Tocqueville’s prime-time came a couple of generations after Jefferson, so I’m not sure that he originated the statement. Tocqueville was only 21 years old at the time of Jefferson’s death, and it is likely that Jefferson would have uttered the phrase many years before his death. So I would think that Jefferson has the greater claim to the phrase. But it would certainly be worth doing more research to find out exactly whose thought this was originally. It is a simple statement, full of profundity.

  3. Thanks for this – “at least not until we come to the place where the nation’s good becomes more important to her citizens than their own self interests.”

    Similar in Australia we need a focus on good houskeeping, reduce debt and build the Nation – simple stuff really!


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