President Obama made an overdue point in Flint recently. He said, ‘I’m not here to go through the full history of what happened. Government officials at every level weren’t attentive to potential problems the way they should have been."
The larger problem, he added, is the "corrosive attitude that exists in our politics. It’s a mind-set that believes that less government is the highest good, no matter what."
I know his words riled some, especially those who believe all government and all taxes are bad and terrible things. But can those people — can any of us — ignore the signs of government under-investment that are all around us here in Michigan? Of course not. We see it every day. At least I do.
I drive to work every day on simply awful roads. So do you. A recent report said they’re worse than ever, by the way, with just 16 percent in ‘good’ condition and 39 percent of them ‘poor.’ (I’d like to know where those 16 percent are because I’ve never driven on them.)
After decades of putting up with it, the Legislature last year finally passed a bill to fix some roads but even so, it’s going to take years and still won’t be nearly enough, some say. Meaning: Five years now the roads will still be lousy, on the whole, and we'll all still upset about them.
Why do we do that to ourselves? What good are half measures? We can have the state we want — it’s our state, our government. We treat government these days like it’s some monster out to get us. It’s not. This is the Michigan, this is the United States. The government is us: We the people, remember? We can choose to have whatever collective benefits we want, as long as we’re willing to pay the cost.
Is the Michigan I see really what we want? Or are we just used to it? (If you travel to other states, you know what I mean.) Do we really want crumbling roads and impoverished cities?
Or how about schools? The schools in cities like Detroit are a complete mess. But schools everywhere else — unless they happen to be in wealthy areas — aren’t doing so well either.
Remember when schools could afford to pay for the marching band, the sports programs, classroom supplies and such? Neither do I. It’s been that long since the days when we spent enough on schools that there wasn’t a kid at your door every night selling fundraiser chocolate.
Is that how it should be? Is that the state we want?
How about college? I have two kids in college. They won’t graduate with massive debt because they have generous grandparents. But most kids will graduate owing what amounts to a small to medium home mortgage.
That’s inconceivably wrong, and it’s probably going to cost us all more in the long run when student loan defaults create the next big economic crisis.
So why don’t we subsidize college like we used to by paying a bit more, especially when we preach to kids that education is the path to security and happiness?
To me it makes no sense. We’ve become a penny-wise, pound foolish state and nation that looks only at short-term cost but doesn’t take into account the real and clear benefits we receive in return or the need to invest long-term. That’s no way to run a household much less a state or a nation.
Someone needed to say it.