By Tony Russell|
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 bacon 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
"What do you say, Ace?" he asked. "About ready to
admit that this administration has lived up to its
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
"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
"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 come through 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 delivered
everything they warned us about. Who could ever trust
the feds again, after what these guys have
"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
"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 money for the
war in Iraq that has disappeared, with no record of
what happened to it. 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
"So whenever they screw up, it's a win/win for them?"
"Right," he said. "It's all a plan 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
"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
"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
"This seems more like 'That government is best which
governs worst.' Are they prepared to pay the price?"
"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