A Less Perfect Union

A destructive trend has gripped this country over the past three decades. Culminating with Grover Norquist’s infamous musing about government (“get it down to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub”), the fanatical movement to dismantle, and subsequently privatize our public structures has damaged America.

Public structures include tangible items like roads, bridges, parks and levees. But, intangible things like an emergency management system, food inspection procedures and standards for clean drinking water are also public structures.

I suspect if you polled a random sample of Americans, most would agree that viable public structures are part of the fabric of our society.

Yet, time and again on the floor of Congress, on talk radio, on cable news programs, or in casual conversations, public structures get lumped in (albeit unintentionally at times) with wholesale ire at the government.

Those of the Norquist ilk take advantage of this dynamic to push their mantra at every turn. Proponents of rampant privatization frame their assault on public structures as “trimming the fat,” “making government lean,” or in some cases, “regulatory justice.”

Unfortunately for the American people, we’ve seen numerous examples of how this ideological fervor plays out in the real world.

The bridge collapse in Minneapolis, a troubling string of toy safety concerns and the recent push to backfill overdue airline safety inspections are just the most recent examples. Of course, the most notorious example of what happens when public structures are neglected is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The next time someone takes an ideologically hard-line on privatization, ask how it’s possible to have viable public structures within a government the size of a bathtub.

You might also ask if it’s possible to form a more perfect union without strong public structures.


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