Don’t you dare trash my Uncle Sam!

This sort of thing has become routine, but I never cease to be disgusted by it.

To begin with, there is one thing that makes America special — “exceptional,” if you will — and that is our system of governing ourselves. It’s not our amber waves of grain or purple mountain majesties, as fine as those are. And it’s not that we are some master race — if anything, our glory is that we are a mongrel people. “We’re mutts” as Bill Murray said in “Stripes.”

What we are, what makes us special is that we are the country that made freedom work, on a grand scale. Over the course of two centuries, we steadily worked to perfect that, and we’re still working on it, to our great credit.

Therefore I cannot abide this constant, incessant, dripping, vituperative hatred hurled at American government by alleged “conservatives” — or for that matter by “progressives” who want us to believe that the system is stacked against the little man. But the attitude that government itself, the very notion of government, is an evil to be fought, overwhelmingly belongs to what we describe as the right these days.

Is there plenty wrong with the way our government functions? You bet. But a huge amount of the blame for that belongs to the extremists who want to possess Washington, and have no use for what anyone who disagrees with them wants. Each side jockeys constantly for absolute control of a system that was designed to accommodate the views of all. And no faction has been as vehement as those who hate government qua government.

That’s our fault, you know. We, the people. We keep voting for that garbage. Which is our right.

And the garbage will continue if we don’t stand against it. Which is not only our right, but our duty.

Today, I stand against something I saw in The Wall Street Journal.

The piece that it went with was unremarkable, the usual stuff you read on the opinion pages of the WSJ, containing such passages as this:

So why is our economy barely growing and unemployment stuck at over 9%? I believe the answer is very simple: Economic freedom is declining in the U.S. In 2000, the U.S. was ranked third in the world behind only Hong Kong and Singapore in the Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by this newspaper and the Heritage Foundation. In 2011, we fell to ninth behind such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland.

That didn’t bother me. Such assertions have become background noise. And while I object to the piece blaming government for everything (yawn!), I agree with the belief it is rooted in: That what America urgently needs right now is strong growth in the private sector. All for it.

No, what got me was the illustration that went with the piece. You can see it above: The shadow of Uncle Sam looming menacingly over ordinary citizens.

My Uncle Sam. Our Uncle Sam. The figure that inspired millions of us to take up arms, literally, against tyranny the world over. The greatest symbolic representation of the blessings of liberal democracy the world has known, with the possible exception of Lady Liberty. Being used to symbolize the “evils” of government. Being used the way cartoonists in this country used to use the shadow of the swastika, the Russian bear, or the hammer and sickle.

Once, Uncle Sam personified the very thing this writer advocates — America rolling up its sleeves, getting to work, exhibiting determined economic vitality in the service of us all.

Utterly disgusting. And yet, something that has become so routine that most won’t even take note of it. Which is why I just did.

18 thoughts on “Don’t you dare trash my Uncle Sam!

  1. `Kathryn Fenner

    Utterly disgusting. Hyperbole much?

    I think, especially down here, the federal government has been the good guy over and over again. Not perfect, but the good guy. I loved “I’ll Fly Away” the TV series in the 90s that dramatized the civil rights movement, and showed how it took the federal courts to do something about it. Clean Air, Clean Water, Interstate highways….don’t stay up waiting for this state to do something about them….

  2. Maggie

    Great post, Brad. My sentiments exactly. How can we expect smart, truly capable people to offer themselves for public service in an environment like this?

  3. Ryan Boru

    I’m glad you took notice of it but you should also realize that it is a perception that more and more people in this country have because it is closer to the truth than you apparently understand.

    If you’ve had regular dealings with any federal government agency as many small businesses do, you’d see how they are increasingly becoming more like those oppressive governments that ruled thier people with tyranny.

    The number and scope of the regulations that govern our people and small businesses has grown out of control. There are more new pending regulations that affect small business that one has time to read, yet we are supposed to comply. Enforcement of these regulations has also been stepped up dramatically and the fines associated with minor infractions (of meaningless rules established by regulators, not congress) are forcing small businesses to close and, in turn, hurting the economy.

    And it’s not the politicians who get elected but the culture of federal regulators that are causing it.

    I agree, you should be disgusted but you should be disgusted with the fact our government is increasingly acting more like a tyrannical police state that a “government by the people”.

    It must be nice to live in a world where you aren’t directly impacted by this but it will catch up to you eventually.

  4. Juan Caruso

    “…there is one thing that makes America special — ‘exceptional,’…”

    Is it still “our system of governing ourselves”, Brad?

    How can you think we govern ourselves when we exercise our right to vote in U.S. elections barely every 2, 4, or 6 years when lobbyists (usually lawyers), heads of congressional ethics and investigating committees, the Senate (65% lawyers) network with each other up to 365 days of every year?

    We the people can barely claim to
    govern ourselves in today’s incestuous “Lawyer-Political Complex” (google). Extremists to which you allude which, if I may hazard a guess, includes the Tea Party, strive to assure our Constitutional guarantees are not further eroded, and popular suffrage outweighs the self-serving power of the Lawyer-Political Complex.

    Until then, for as long as it lasts, what still makes America truly exceptional remains our uniquely unfettered freedom of speech, a liberty unmatched anywhere else on the entire globe.

  5. Luke

    “Therefore I cannot abide this constant, incessant, dripping, vituperative hatred hurled at American government by alleged conservatives”

    Now there’s a measured tone…

    It’s important to remember that every dollar spent on government services is economic overhead. That is not to say that government services cannot not contribute to the overall health of the economy by providing things the private sector would not naturally provide (roads, security), but government is like your accountant. Non-productive overhead. If you can minimize the amount of resources your economy has to allocate towards non-productive labor, those resources are directed towards productive labor, making for a more robust economy.

    If you can allow yourself to stipulate my assumptions for a moment, the editorial depiction of Uncle Sam’s shadow looming over the ‘Dick and Janes’ is a great expression of the continuing encroachment of government into the private sector.

    It’s an editorial cartoon for crying out loud! It has in no way tarnished the image of Uncle Sam. What has tarnished the image of Uncle Sam has been the unbridled growth of government, relative to the overall economy.

    It is obvious that your beef is not with the use of Uncle Sam in a negative light, but with the ideas and assumptions held by the people who don’t look at the purpose of government through rose-colored glasses.

  6. bud

    I wasn’t sure I was reading a bit of sarcastic satire or if Brad was completely serious, apparently the later.

    Ok, the cartoon is a bit over the top but the point is pretty clear: Our government can and does act as a tyranical and intrusive force in a number of areas. How can we truly be free when we cannot even choose what we can smoke or when we can die. What’s more, if we can’t trust our government to tell us the truth about matters regarding war then we really do have a way to go.

    Yes our government did wonders in bringing civil rights to the fore. Yes our government helped clean up our air and water from the excesses of big business. And yes our government works for us in thousands of other ways, big and small. But let us never become so comfortable that we forget the dark and sinister side of government that perpetrates tyranny on it’s own citizens in a number of dispicable ways. Just ask the guy who flounders in jail for the crime of smoking a joint. Or the soldier who was maimed by a roadside bomb in a village thousands of miles away in a war fought on false pretenses. And don’t even get me started on the tyranny of an electoral system that results in the horrors of George W. Bush even though he received fewer votes. So yes the cartoon has a good and useful point that flag-waivers like Brad sometimes fail to see. We should always strive to attain full freedom. And if that means a somewhat overly dramatic cartoon to illustrate the point then so be it.

  7. Karen McLeod

    Often regulations are written to correct a problem that 3/4ths of the people who have to live with the regulation never see, or never would have considered doing. It’s really difficult to enforce a regulation against a small number of providers who find a loophole which allows them to do something appalling unless you close the loophole completely, with close attention to the details. This response causes others, who would have never considered doing any such thing to go into WTF!!?? mode. I am not sure how the government can avoid this problem, but during my years working as someone who inspected places to ensure that they met regulations, I saw some dillies that would have truly disturbed most of the providers.

  8. `Kathryn Fenner

    Yes, what Karen said. I have been fortunate enough to only occasionally have to accompany with people with mobility issues, and while the ADA can seem onerous to those who are able, it is a Godsend to those who are not. Same thing with many other federal regulations: they are there to protect the minority of people who are adversely affected by the situation. I don’t have asthma, but for those who do, clean air is critical in the short term, rather than the long term health issue it is for the rest of us….

  9. Burl Burlingame

    Likewise, conservatives who view their fellow citizens as “the enemy” to be relentlessly assaulted instead of simply disagreeing. The phrase is “noise machine” and it has reached psychotic levels.

  10. Karen McLeod

    I could say that for the extremists on both sides, Burl. Those folks (of either persuasion) cannot differentiate those who are extreme from those who have differing opinions from them. I tend to trace this to the “Rush Limbaugh” style of commentary, and to attack politics from the “Willy Horton” campaign ads on up.

  11. Karen McLeod

    Am I wrong, or did this tendency to vilify the other party by and large begin with Lee Atwater and grow from there? That’s what I remember. It’s not that there wasn’t plenty of trash talk going on in private (ie. in groups where everyone was in agreement), but it didn’t spill out publicly until then that I remember.

  12. Brad

    It started at about that time, but it wasnt just Lee. I was in Tennessee at the time, and it was happening there. Robin Beard got national attention in 1982 for his attacks on Jim Sasser.

  13. bud

    There is a school of thought that says there are three types of Americans (1) Libertarians (2) Pragmatists and (3) Flag waivers.

    Libertarians believe freedom is an absolute. Corporations are free to destroy the environment, screw their workers and generally reek havoc on society through unfettered control of resources. Concentration of wealth is not a problem to libertarian regardless of how unsavory and unearned that wealth is.

    The pragmatists believe first and foremost in freedom but find that both government and corporations should be limited. Freedom can only exist when basic dignity exists for all citizens and basics are met including food, shelter and medical care. Otherwise the pragmatist believes folks should be allowed great latitude in how they conduct their affairs.

    The flag waivers pretty much believe the USA, and especially it’s government, is infallible. They give lip service to freedom but generally support true freedom only when it’s something that they participate in or support. Flag waivers typically could care less about freedom as a general concept but are highly offended whenever they are denied something they cherish. Typically flag waivers find persons who are not Americans as inferior and hence can easily justify foreign wars. They also find it easy to deny freedom to Americans if they feel their behavior is “abnormal”. Abnormal behavior typically is anything the flag waiver deems abnormal without regard to any quantifiable criteria. To the flag waiver there vision of ‘normal’ is everything.

  14. Brad

    Hmmm… interesting model. Not sure I’d apply the term “pragmatist” to the second group. Sounds more progressive/libertarian to me.

    As an actual pragmatist (to a great extent at least), I’ll tell you what I see: Two kinds of libertarians. There’s the economic kind, which ironically tends to gravitate toward the right (I say “ironically” because they are classic liberals), and, to use your words, those who believe “folks should be allowed great latitude in how they conduct their affairs.” Those lean left. And I don’t see either group as pragmatic; both are highly ideological.

  15. Brad

    I commented on the original piece over at the WSJ website, and got a few responses. Here’s one, from a Tom Tucker: “Actually it is an extremely apropos picture as the government and economy look and act more and more like the fascist/socialist governments of the past.”

    Is it wicked of me to wish that such a person be transported to a place and time where he would experience ACTUAL tyranny, so that he might gain perspective?

    Probably. Because anyone who thinks he’s struggling under the yoke now would probably collapse completely were any real burden placed upon him.

  16. David

    Shorter bud:

    Three groups of Americans exist: reasonable people who think like I do, a group of crazy a-holes, and a second group of crazy a-holes.

    Seriously. That’s basically what you just said.

Comments are closed.