Talking About the Government

Here in Virginia we’re just coming out of an exceptionally ugly election season.  I’ve read that the Governor’s race was possibly the most negative, bitter gubernatorial contest ever.  I’m pretty sure it was the most expensive.

Both of the major party nominees were controversial and extremely unpopular, even within their own parties.  The choice was so bad that at least two major newspapers in the state refused to endorse either of them.  The Charlottesville paper (which would normally endorse the Democrat) endorsed writing in the name of our current Lt. Governor and the Danville paper (which would normally endorse the Republican) endorsed the Libertarian candidate.  After one of the debates the Washington Post quipped something like, “Both candidates spent most of the debate arguing that their opponent cannot be trusted and is unfit for the office.  On this point they are both correct.”

I don’t expect my life to be much affected by which of these two fellows becomes Governor and didn’t trouble myself much with their months-long mudfest.  And because we don’t watch television we were spared most of the mudslinging.  But toward the end it was inescapable thanks to robocalls and internet ads.

A few days before the election I answered a robocall which announced:  “Terry McAuliffe and Barack Obama and planning to take away your right to own guns.” That same day I got an internet pop-up ad saying:  “Ken Cuccinelli’s radical agenda: Outlaw birth control.”

It’s sad to think that there are voters ignorant and gullible enough to believe nonsensical lies like this, and that there is evidently no accountability for spreading them.

But I can see how those fibs would be scary.  I especially shiver at the thought of a society with guns, but no birth control. Imagine a world in which the folks who believe stuff like this are reproducing more rapidly, and they all have guns.  A chilling prospect.

Ultimately the Democrat McAuliffe prevailed, presumably having been judged the lesser evil.  The Democrat candidate also won in the Lt. Governor race, but the result of the Attorney General contest is still undecided (the last count I saw had the Republican candidate winning by a mere 17 votes).

I try not to get sucked into political squabbling, most of which strikes me as contrived disputes designed to exaggerate the petty differences between the candidates, in order to convince voters that something really important is at stake.  And of course, often we’re manipulated with outright lies, like the claims that the candidates plan to outlaw gun ownership or birth control.  Elections like the one we’ve just endured are compelling arguments for apoliticism.

I reckon I’m as bad as anyone else when it comes to complaining about “the government.”  But “the government” is just a bunch of people, behaving in a particular way.  Maybe high office tends to attract those unfit to rule. Maybe anyone who has the poor judgment to seek high office, thereby proves his or her unfitness for the office.  But cynicism aside, the flaws we see in “the government” are many of the same flaws we ought to see in ourselves.

When I start feeling riled up about “the government,” I try to remember the wisdom of Wendell Berry, who (although he’s a master at complaining about the government) nailed it when he wrote, “If we all behaved as honorably and honestly and industriously as we expect our representatives to behave, we would soon put the government out of work.”

I dream of a day when we’ll just put them out of work.