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05/05/08 5:55PM By Bill Schubart
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(HOST) The end of the legislative session has had Hinesburg writer and commentator Bill Schubart thinking about the need to talk more in our schools and our communities about the role of government in our lives.

(SCHUBART) A central, if unspoken, ideological argument today is about government: whether it is good or bad. Government, of course, is neither. It's simply an organizing principle around which societies succeed or fail. Anarchists believe in no government; conservatives believe in a small government; liberals believe in more government; socialists and fascists, though very different, believe in comprehensive government. What makes government successful are the individual leaders and managers we choose to populate it, as well as their capacity to remain connected to us, the governed.

Unfortunately, many of us have settled into Barcalounger ideologies, content to make voting choices from sound bytes or worse, from fear rather than dialogue and knowledge. We are not having an open dialogue in our schools or in our communities about the role of government in society. Neither are we well served by the decline in journalistic standards, nor by the acquisition of mass media by owners with a political agenda. This all makes it more difficult to talk about the type of leaders we must elect to be successful.  

The neoconservative "starve the beast" strategy is a cynical reminder of low we have sunk. The assumption is that, because it's so hard to cut government programs, one simply leaves them in place without funding. Furthermore, the conservative belief that unregulated business will always act in the best interests of its markets, and therefore society, has been disproved by recent events - like 20% credit card interest rates, bank and airline failures, the mortgage lending scandal, and so on. Businesses, like individuals, need rational rules by which to play. Privatization of societal needs that previously fell to government to manage, such as education, corrections and the military, are showing mixed to poor results.

Government is what we make it. It will reflect our values and those of the people we elect to lead us. If, in fact, government is neither good nor bad, should not our discussion be about leadership and the painful civic selection process we have evolved?  Should we not be questioning whether money and free speech are indeed one and the same? Has the recent Presidential primary enlarged our understanding of each candidate's policy proposals - or just the network's ad revenues and our sense of their style and entertainment value?

We need an open dialogue about the role of government in our lives and how we choose our leaders. Why is it that the very people many of us might choose to lead us are dissuaded by the process itself?

Government will reflect its citizenry. It can significantly improve problems like poverty, health care, energy, and job creation, but only if we, the electorate, are willing to engage in the discussion and demand clarity of our leaders. We must amend the leadership selection process to encourage proven leaders to run, rather than wear them down in gladiatorial entertainments and pandering for money.

We the people have our own work to do.
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